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Bell found guilty on one charge

January 25, 2001

Bell found guilty on one charge



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - David Lee Bell Jr. was found guilty of wanton endangerment involving a firearm Thursday but acquitted on two other counts of the same charge and on three counts of violating the civil rights of another person.

Bell is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced March 5 on the wanton endangerment charge, a felony that carries a sentence of from one to three years in prison.

The case stemmed from an hunting incident in 1998 in which racial slurs were alleged to have been made to Clyde M. Eggleton and his two sons, who are African American.

The verdict was greeted by expressions of disappointment and disbelief among the victims and prosecutors.

Eggleton said it is almost impossible to get a conviction for hate crimes in Jefferson County.

"They don't realize what hate crimes are, and they don't realize the injustices that happen," Eggleton said.

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Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson called the verdict "incomprehensible."

Because both wanton endangerment involving a firearm and violation of the civil rights of another person are considered "breach of the peace" type charges, Thompson said he can't understand why Bell was convicted on one of the wanton endangerment charges but not on the civil rights charges.

Bell, 56, of Route 1, Kearneysville, did not have any comment following the verdict.

The hunting incident occurred as Eggleton and his sons were finishing up a morning of hunting in a field near Leetown.

A man, later identified as Bell, approached Eggleton and his two sons and told them he was the owner of the property, according to a criminal complaint filed by West Virginia State Police.

Eggleton told police that he believed the land was owned by someone else.

The criminal complaint alleged that the man pointed a rifle at the three men and threatened to shoot them if they returned to the property.

The father and sons also alleged that the man told them he did not have any need for black people and used a racial epithet, according to court records.

In his closing argument Thursday, defense attorney David Camilletti said the case was "not a black and white issue" but one about property rights and trespassing.

Camilletti said Eggleton and his sons did not have permission to hunt on the property. An argument ensued over who had permission to hunt in the field, but no guns were pointed at anyone, Camilletti told jurors.

"They just used some bad language at each other," Camilletti said.

The civil rights statute under which Bell was indicted was passed by the state Legislature about four years ago. Before that, there was no law protecting people from violence because of their race.

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