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Hess trial begins in West Virginia

February 13, 2001|By BOB PARTLOW

Hess trial begins in West Virginia



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jerry Lee Hess Jr.'s attorney painted a picture Tuesday of a man whose mental condition and use of drugs may have played a role in the death of Deborah Lee Grove on Oct. 25, 1999.

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Hess is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Grove, 46, of Martinsburg. His trial began Tuesday in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

The jury of six men and six women chosen Tuesday will not hear evidence that points to Hess, 32, of Hedgesville, W.Va., as being guilty of first-degree murder, said Hess' attorney Craig Manford.

Grove was beaten and stabbed to death in an orchard near Arden-Nolville Road. Jurors listened as a written confession from Hess was read and watched his taped confession to a West Virginia State Police trooper the night after the killing.

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"The best the state can prove in this case is second-degree murder," Manford said in his opening statement.

Hess has a history of mental problems dating from a 1993 motorcycle accident, he said. Hess acknowledged drinking two cases of beer and smoking $200 worth of crack cocaine the day of Grove's death. He expressed remorse and volunteered information about a murder police didn't know had occurred, Manford said.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely did not address the issue of Hess' mental condition in her opening statement. She described the beating and stabbing of Grove as "a particularly brutal act."

Grove was beaten so badly that anyone who saw her body would not have been able to determine if it was male or female, Games-Neely said. She said the question for the jury would not be whether Hess killed Grove, "but whether there is some excuse for that."

The prosecution alleges that Hess met Grove at the Fifty Yard Line Club on W.Va. 9 early on the morning of Oct. 25. They had some drinks, then drove in Hess' car to an orchard to have sex. They partially undressed and Hess said he felt guilty thinking of his wife and four children. That's when he killed her, according to his confessions.

Later that day, Hess went to City Hospital in Martinsburg, claiming he had killed someone. A nurse called police, who learned that he had hit a woman, whose name he said he did not know.

Police asked him how he knew she was dead, and he said "there's no one who could have lived through the beating I gave her," according to his confession.

In the taped confession made later that night, Hess acknowledged beating Grove and stabbing her with a crowbar, although Games-Neely said a tire iron was probably the weapon.

Hess claimed to have blacked out many of the details, which Manford said would be consistent with a man who has experienced blackouts because of head trauma following a motorcycle accident.

In his taped confession, Hess repeatedly expressed regret for his action.

"I'm very sorry for what I did," he said. He added: "This is going to bother me for the rest of my life."

At the end of the taped confession, West Virginia State Trooper Robert Copson told Hess, "You're not a cold-blooded killer. If you were, this wouldn't bother you like it does."

"I didn't want to hurt her," he said at another point. Asked repeatedly by Copson why he did it, he said he didn't know.

He finally responded, "Alcohol and all the stuff I've got up inside."

If Hess did kill Grove, her death did not fit the classic definition of first-degree murder, which is that it was unlawful, intentional, involved malice, premeditation, deliberation and a specific intent to kill, Manford said.

Manford said alcohol and drug use and mental state do not excuse any alleged acts, but show that if he did do it, it was a "spontaneous, nonreflective event."

Manford said he would call only two witnesses, both psychological or neurological experts who would testify about Hess' mental condition.

The trial before Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes resumes today.

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