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Defense rests in murder trial

July 22, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - In an unexpected move Wednesday, defense lawyers rested their case without calling witnesses in the trial of William Trampas Widmyer, who is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his former wife last November.

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Defense attorneys S. Andrew Arnold and David Camilletti made the move a day after Arnold, in an opening statement, said he would call at least two witnesses to testify about the problems Widmyer was having in regard to his divorce from Tara Widmyer.

On Wednesday, Arnold said the defense would rely instead on a statement from Widmyer that shows him to be a "confused, chaotic thinker."

The jury is scheduled to begin deliberations at 9 a.m. today.

Widmyer is charged with first-degree murder, malicious assault and other charges in the Nov. 16, 1998, shooting death of his ex-wife and the wounding of her boyfriend, Larry Miller, 32, of Charles Town.

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One of the witnesses the defense lawyers had said they would call was Wheeling, W.Va., psychologist Charles Hewitt, who had performed a lengthy evaluation of Widmyer. Arnold said the evaluation led to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

But on Wednesday, Arnold said jurors need only read a statement Widmyer gave to police after his arrest to determine his state of mind.

"We don't want to be tedious and ask the jury to consider redundant information," Arnold said.

Ranson Police took the statement in the Shenandoah County Jail in Virginia on Nov. 19, three days after Tara Widmyer was killed. Widmyer had turned himself in to police in Woodstock, Va.

In the statement, Widmyer says he was bothered by his ex-wife's decision to begin seeing Miller, who was wounded by shots fired through the living room window of Tara Widmyer's townhouse at 107-B E. Sixth Ave. in Ranson, according to testimony.

Police said at least five shots were fired from a .35-caliber rifle.

At one point, Tara Widmyer agreed to marriage counseling to work out her problems with Widmyer, but she later asked for a divorce, Widmyer said in his statement.

Widmyer told police in the statement that his divorce from Tara Widmyer "took all the life out of me."

In the statement, he said he knows of people who had bad experiences in marriage break-ups. Widmyer said an acquaintance was deemed "crazy" after the man's wife took his children to a psychiatrist to be examined.

The man was later "locked up" and lost all his visitation rights, said Widmyer, who had a 5-year-old daughter with Tara Widmyer.

Widmyer said in the statement that another friend lost custody of his children as well as visitation rights over a child-support issue.

"Do you think I'm crazy? I don't think I was," Widmyer said in his statement. "After you shoot somebody, you think you're crazy."

Arnold, who had planned to use an insanity defense in the case, characterized his client's thinking as "all over the board."

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson agreed Widmyer's statement provides insight about the defendant, particularly his plans to kill Tara Widmyer.

Thompson said Widmyer had considered carrying out the threat for at least two months, and also had considered killing Tara Widmyer's father, Robert Wilbourne, who is a minister at Child's Road Church of God along W.Va. 51 west of Charles Town.

"Killing people was on this young man's mind," Thompson told jurors in his closing argument. "This is a classic case of domestic violence, stalking, unwilling to let her go."

Miller, who was shot in the stomach and right knee, was crawling out the door and yelling for help when police arrived, according to police and testimony.

Miller broke down on the witness stand Wednesday while recounting the night of the attack.

Miller said he was asleep on a sofa bed when he "felt a burning sensation" in his leg.

"All I remember is Tara taking her last breath," he testified.

Widmyer also is charged with destruction of property, breaking and entering, petit larceny and possessing a vehicle knowing it to be stolen.

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