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Hess' attorney to appeal conviction

February 26, 2001

Hess' attorney to appeal conviction



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


The attorney for convicted first-degree murderer Jerry Lee Hess Jr. said he will argue on appeal that a psychologist should have been allowed to testify that Hess was mentally incapable of forming the intent to kill Deborah Lee Grove.

Attorney Craig Manford also will argue that pictures shown to the jury of Grove, 46, after she was beaten to death in a south Berkeley County orchard Oct. 25, 1999, were prejudicial because they were inflammatory.

Appeal of the conviction is automatic under West Virginia law. Manford has 30 days to file notice of an appeal.

A West Virginia jury deliberated for three hours before finding Hess, 32, guilty of first-degree murder on Feb. 15. Hess and Grove left the 50 Yard Line Club early on the morning of the murder and drove to the orchard, allegedly to have sex. Hess beat Grove after feeling guilty about committing adultery, he said in confessions to police.

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Manford argued that Bernard Lewis, a neuropsychologist from Winchester, Va., should have been allowed to testify during the trial that a series of head injuries, including a coma-inducing car accident in 1993, left Hess without the ability to form the intent to commit premeditated murder.

Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wilkes ruled Lewis could testify about the head injuries, but could not draw any conclusion about how that might have affected Hess the night of the killing.

"That could have made all the difference in that case," between first- and second-degree murder, Manford said following the verdict.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said she agreed with the judge's ruling that jurors should hear all the evidence about head trauma, then make up their own minds without a psychologist offering an opinion.

"The jury could drawn their own conclusions as they weighted all the factors," Games-Neely said.

After the verdict, jury foreman Ronald Unger said members of the jury did consider the head injuries and believed they weren't significant enough to lessen the seriousness of the crime.

The law governing the issue of mental capacity has never been tested by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The law seems to allow an expert like Lewis to draw a conclusion, but it has been changed over the years and no one is sure what the state's highest court might rule, Manford and Games-Neely said.

Manford said he will also argue in the appeal that pictures of Grove were so awful they inflamed the jury.

He said courts have a "gruesome rule" about pictures, which excludes pictures if they are so horrific they could prejudice the jury. This jury was shown pictures of Grove.

"The issue is did the state need this evidence" to build its case, Manford said. "The state had plenty of other evidence without using these pictures."

Games-Neely agreed the pictures were gruesome, but said there was no other good way to show exactly what Hess had done to Grove.

Manford has until mid-March to file his notice of appeal and will start building his case, he said.

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