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Attorneys want prosecutor disqualified

November 16, 2000

Attorneys want prosecutor disqualified



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Saying Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely is "placing her personal interest above the interests of justice by attempting to prosecute Sara Howard" in the deaths of her three children, two defense attorneys asked a judge to disqualify the prosecutor Thursday.

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In court documents, defense attorneys alleged that Games-Neely has made Howard "a pawn in a game being played out between the prosecutor" and the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The defense alleges "there is a long-standing disagreement between DHHR and Ms. Games-Neely. Defendant alleges that this disagreement has risen to animous (sic) and hostility between the parties at the expense of the defendant."

Games-Neely is trying Howard "to further her agenda of gaining power and control over DHHR decision in abuse and neglect cases," defense attorneys Jerome Dambro and Homer Speaker allege in the documents.

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The defense also alleges she is continuing the case despite new forensic evidence that they say points away from murder and arson.

Court rules require a prosecutor to not be "a partisan eager to convict" and to be one whose duty is to fairness, the defense attorneys argue.

"The Court cannot, indeed has a duty to not, allow that to continue" they wrote.

Games-Neely said the motion lacks substance.

"It's another garbage motion," she said.

Games-Neely said her office is trying the case because it believes that is the right thing to do. She said the case has nothing to do with the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Howard was charged with arson, murder and neglect causing the death of a child after a Nov. 13, 1999, fire at her home at 211 E. Liberty St. Howard climbed out a bedroom window where two of her children were sleeping as smoke started to consume the house. They later died, along with a third child in another room.

Murder charges were filed against Howard after the West Virginia State Police laboratory said gasoline was present where the fire is believed to have started. The defense conducted its own test and an independent expert eventually determined no gasoline was present at the scene.

Games-Neely used the evidence of gasoline when presenting the case against Howard to a grand jury and obtained an indictment.

The defense contends that since that evidence has been proven wrong, the charges should be dismissed.

Games-Neely has said the defense has no legal basis to ask for the dismissal on those grounds.

The central issue of the motion to disqualify the prosecutor stems from a long-running dispute between her and the department, whom she is legally required to represent in child abuse and neglect cases.

Games-Neely has questioned the department's action in several cases, including the Howard case. In February, she sent a letter to the state House Judiciary Committee outlining several cases she said she thought were mishandled.

One case involved Sara Howard in June, 1999. Howard's daughter, then 2, wandered away from the house. Games-Neely petitioned the court to remove Howard's children from the house. The department disagreed and the children stayed with her.

During the just-concluded election campaign, Games-Neely indirectly referenced the matter on a radio show, saying if she had prevailed over the department's wishes, the children would still be alive. Her "desire to convict Sara Howard at all costs" can be found in her failure to adequately look at other suspects, the defense argues. She didn't present any evidence of other possible suspects to the grand jury, the motion says.

"This had the effect of narrowing the grand jury's focus exclusively on Sara Howard, despite the wealth of information" pointing to another suspect, the defense alleges in the court document.

A court hearing on the motions will be held Nov. 27.

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