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Judge to rule on plea in W.Va. trial

January 19, 2001

Judge to rule on plea in W.Va. trial



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Attorneys for Sara Howard, accused in a fire that claimed the lives of her three children, reached a plea agreement Thursday with Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely to settle the case.

Any plea agreement would have to be approved by Circuit Judge David Sanders.

All the parties had gathered Thursday afternoon to discuss the issue, but Sanders decided to wait until this morning. He previously had scheduled for today an all-day hearing on issues related to the trial, scheduled to start Feb. 6.

The attorneys were tight-lipped about the plea agreement, saying only that one had been struck.

"There is an offer," Games-Neely said. "The offer has been accepted Now it's up to the judge to decide what to do."

"He is going to listen" to the plea proposal, defense attorney Jerome Dambro said.

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Howard is charged in the Nov. 13, 1999, deaths of her three children at their 211 E. Liberty St. home.

The prosecution has alleged she set a fire in the early morning hours, then climbing through an upstairs bedroom window past her three-year-old twins Brandi and Cory. Her four-year-old son Mason was sleeping in another room. All three children died within a week of the fire.

Howard was charged with three counts of felony murder, three counts of first-degree murder, one count of arson and three counts of child neglect causing death.

The activity to settle the case came the same day that the West Virginia State Court of Appeals refused to hear an appeal by Howard's defense lawyers, who wanted the charges against her to be dismissed.

Her attorneys argued that Games-Neely had charged Howard based on evidence that showed an accelerant was used to start the fire. An independent consultant has since said that was not the case.

Dambro said Thursday's court decision to not hear the appeal played a part in the plea discussions, but refused to say it was the catalyst.

"It was one of the many factors," he said.

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