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Hess case goes to jury

February 14, 2001

Hess case goes to jury



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Berkeley County jury will resume deliberations today in the murder trial of Jerry Lee Hess Jr, 32, charged in the 1999 death Deborah Lee Grove.

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The first-degree murder case went to the jury of six men and six women shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday. They deliberated for an hour before breaking off for the day. They were to resume deliberations at 9:15 a.m. today.

The prosecution argued that Grove's death was premeditated, a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction. The defense maintained that if Hess did what he is accused of doing, an old head injury and drug and alcohol use prevented him from being able to form the intent to commit murder.

Wednesday's testimony centered around Hess' mental condition in the years before Grove, 46, was beaten and stabbed in a south county orchard early in the morning of Oct. 25. 1999.

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Defense witness Bernard Lewis, a clinical psychologist from Winchester, Va., testified about the substantial brain injury Hess sustained in a 1993 automobile accident.

That accident caused the most serious of several head injuries suffered by Hess, Lewis said. The 1993 accident left him unconscious for hours and hospitalized for almost four weeks. A year later, he was hit on the head with a hammer.

"He had those significant factors which seem to have caused brain damage," Lewis said.

Over the years, psychologists had said Hess had such mental ailments as "intermittent explosive disorder," meaning he could lose mental control instantly with no provocation, Lewis said. He reported suffering headaches and blackouts, which Lewis said are classic symptoms of brain damage.

The problems were made worse by his abuse of alcohol and other drugs, Lewis said. The night Grove died, Hess had alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and possibly amphetamines in his system, blood reports showed.

Lewis administered tests to Hess a year after Grove's death and found him to have mild brain impairment. But Lewis said Hess had been sober for a year and had been taking medications such as lithium, which he had failed to take right before the murder.

Lewis said the tests represented Hess' "best performance possible" and his condition would have been the same or worse on the night of the murder.

Lewis was prohibited by Judge Christopher Wilkes from giving a medical opinion about whether Hess' mental state and drug and alcohol use could have kept him from forming the "specific intent" to kill Grove.

Such intent is necessary to find a defendant guilty of first-degree murder, a charge that requires premeditation.

Hess' attorney, Craig Manford, argued his client's mental state constituted "extenuating circumstances." It would not excuse what happened, but showed that he did not have control over his actions, Manford said.

Hess and Grove met at a bar and drove in Hess' car to an orchard to have sex. Hess later said he felt guilty about committing adultery and, in a confession to police, said he hit Grove. Later that day, he turned himself in at City Hospital in Martinsburg.

Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely argued Hess' head injuries were a convenient excuse for a brutal murder. She said he did it deliberately and with premeditation, pointing to evidence Hess first hit Grove with his fist and then later beat her with a tire iron he retrieved from the car trunk.

If Hess wasn't able to function, she asked, how could he have driven to the orchard, beaten Grove violently and repeatedly, driven away and then turned himself in.

Games-Neely said the jury was being asked to believe "if someone goes out and gets drunk, goes out and gets high, has a pre-existing brain condition from a few years before that that somehow excuses" what the person does.

She said his explanation was an excuse the jury should ignore. "How do you excuse something that violent, that vicious?" she asked. "You don't."

Manford told the jurors, "Ms. Neely wants you to think I'm some bleeding heart liberal. That's not the case. I just want you to apply the law."

The law says if Hess could not form the intent to murder Grove because of his mental condition and intoxication, he cannot be found guilty of first-degree murder, Manford said.

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