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Two murder trials set

December 07, 2000

Two murder trials set



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Two murder trials are scheduled for early next year in Berkeley County.

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The trial of Sara Howard, charged in the deaths of her three children in a November 1999 house fire, is scheduled for the February 2001 term in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Scheduled for the same term is the first-degree murder trial of Jerry Lee Hess, charged in the death a woman he met at a bar in October 1999.

The murder trials will be part of a busy first two months for prosecutors, who also will try two major fraud-related cases.

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It's not unusual to have so many major cases at once, said Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

The high-profile Howard case may be held elsewhere because of pre-trial publicity.

Circuit Judge David Sanders recently issued a sealed ruling on a defense motion to move the trial or bring in a jury from outside. Sanders, who has not made the ruling public because it would create further publicity, will unseal the order as the Feb. 6 trial date approaches, officials said.

Howard, 37, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of felony murder, three counts of child neglect causing death and arson.

She is charged with setting a fire in her 211 E. Liberty St. house that was reported at 2:43 a.m., Nov. 13, 1999. She climbed out an upstairs bedroom window in which her twin 3-year-old children, Corey and Brandi, were sleeping, according to court documents and statements made at pre-trial hearings. Within the week following the fire, the twins died of smoke inhalation, as did her 4-year old son, Mason, who had been sleeping in another room.

Howard is being held in Eastern Regional Jail on $30,000 bond.

Hess, 32, of Martinsburg, is charged with the first-degree murder of Deborah Lee Grove, 46, on Oct. 25, 1999.

In court documents, prosecutors allege Hess and Grove left the Fifty Yard Line Club on VanMetre Avenue between 3:30 and 5:30 a.m. on that day and went to an orchard off Arden-Nollville Road near Tinsman Lane for the purpose of having sex.

Police allege he got a guilty conscience because he is married and beat Grove to death with a tire iron.

Grove's partially unclothed body was found by West Virginia State Police troopers about 8:50 p.m. Oct. 25.

The trial was delayed once while psychiatric evaluations were done. Three have now been done.

Hess is being held in Eastern Regional Jail without bond.

The trial is scheduled for Feb. 13.

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