Arson trial to begin today

June 03, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Hedgesville man charged in the slaying of a church volunteer last February will go on trial today for arson in an unrelated case, court officials said.

Banner Cornell Catlett, 21, was indicted on a charge of first-degree arson following a house fire in September 1995, according to court records.

Fire officials said the Sawmill Road house, where Catlett had been living, sustained about $50,000 in damages in the blaze. Officials said they later found Catlett sitting on a log in back of the house.


A motive for the fire was not clear.

Catlett has had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, and once was admitted to a mental hospital after he became psychotic and violent, according to court records.

After the house fire on Sawmill Road, several fire crackers were found on the ground near the front of the house, and a 9 mm handgun was found under the front porch, according to court records.

Other evidence collected during the investigation included a shotgun and two rifles, court records said.

If Catlett is found guilty of first-degree arson, he faces a possible jail sentence of two to twenty years, said Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely. The trial is expected to last about two days, Games-Neely said.

On Feb. 4, Catlett was charged with murder in the shooting death of Andrew Mason, a Hedgesville Assembly of God volunteer who had tried to help Catlett cope with his personal problems, according to court records and friends of Mason's.

Catlett told police that he broke into Mason's mobile home along Sawmill Road near Tomahawk by kicking in the front door, according to testimony in a hearing for Catlett last February. Mason stumbled out of his bedroom and into the hall and was startled by Catlett's presence, according to testimony.

An autopsy showed Mason died from two bullet wounds to the head, according to testimony.

Catlett is scheduled to go on trial June 17 on the murder charge, Games-Neely said.

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