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Fla. women sentenced in Morgan slaying

August 05, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - A stripper and a waitress from Florida killed Morgan County businessman Harry Theodore Compton after he brought them here from Florida and tried to help them get a new start, his family members said Tuesday after the two women were sentenced to prison terms.

Judge David Sanders sentenced Tonya Teresa Thomas and Christina Bess Richardson, both 23, to 10 to 20 years in state prison on their guilty pleas to second-degree murder in the March 17 stabbing death of the 54-year-old Compton.

"They wanted a new start and he introduced them to Berkeley Springs," Compton's daughter, Misty Hampe, said after the sentencing in Morgan County Circuit Court. Her father met the two women in Florida a few weeks before the murder, police have said.

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Daughter Trena Youngblood said Compton paid for them to stay at the Berkeley Springs Motel, bought them food and clothes and even bought their plane tickets back to Florida when they couldn't find jobs. Other members of the family met the women during their stay, she added.

Compton was stabbed five times in his home on a Monday night. Youngblood said Richardson's and Thomas's plane tickets were for the next day.

Thomas, originally from Marseilles, Ill., and Richardson, from Mendora, Ill., also were ordered them to pay $32,330.93 in restitution to Compton's estate and family. In exchange for the plea, five other charges each woman faced - armed robbery, grand larceny and criminal conspiracy to commit armed robbery and grand larceny - were dropped.

The women faced life in prison on the original murder charges.

Richardson, speaking Tuesday in a voice barely audible in the courtroom, said. "A fight broke out over money."

Thomas told the judge, "Me and Chris entered the house and there was an argument over money and there was a struggle between me and him and I stabbed him."

Prosecuting Attorney David Savasten said the plea agreement arose from "the difficulty in proving the element of premeditation necessary to elevate this case to the level of first-degree murder."

Savasten said the statements of Richardson and Thomas, along with forensic evidence, would likely have been enough to secure a second-degree conviction, although he added, "There is always an element of uncertainty in any jury trial."

Richardson's attorney, David Camilletti, and Byron Craig Manford, the lawyer for Thomas, both indicated to Sanders they believed the state could produce sufficient evidence for a second-degree conviction.

Thomas and Richardson were in Compton's 1997 Ford Mustang when they led police on a high-speed chase after a West Virginia trooper tried to stop them for a loud muffler the night of the slaying. The chase reached speeds of 120 mph before the car went up an embankment in Martinsburg, W.Va., and the women were arrested.

At Compton's Merrywoods subdivision home, police found a trail of blood from a couch to an area between the dining room and living room where his body was found, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing on March 25. A bloody kitchen knife was found in the kitchen sink, Trooper Brian Bean testified at that hearing.

Youngblood asked Thomas and Richardson to face the family as members addressed them directly. The two women, in orange prison uniforms and shackled by their hands and feet, did so with their heads bowed much of the time.

"I feel like I am attending the funeral again," daughter Jennifer Cain told them.

"I would always be so proud of him when I heard about him helping someone in a time of need," wrote granddaughter Brandi Hampe in a letter read by friend Roxanne Spring.

Compton's widow, Joanne, noted that Thomas has a child. "We want you to know the pain of not being able to touch someone," Compton said.

Youngblood said she and a brother and a sister had all received identical letters from Thomas expressing her remorse. "I think it was just to play head games with us," she told the court.

Her father's last words were reportedly, "Why are you doing this to me?" Youngblood told the women she hoped those words would "stick in your minds for the rest of your lives."

Ted Compton owned T.H. Compton Inc., a local trucking firm, until closing it last year. His family said he had five children and nine grandchildren. Most of the 40 or so people in the courtroom indicated by a show of hands that they were relatives or friends of Compton.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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