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Prosecutor says suspicion led to woman's beating death

January 16, 2002

Prosecutor says suspicion led to woman's beating death



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


U.S. Attorney Tom Mucklow told a federal jury Tuesday that prosecutors believe Vatressa Miller was killed because one of two suspected drug dealers accused in her death thought she was working with the police.

Mucklow alleged in opening statements in the trials of Andrew Charles Jackson and Keyston J. West that that suspicion lead to Miller's beating death.

Jackson and West were indicted in January 2000 on charges of attempting to further a criminal enterprise by killing Miller. Mucklow said they took Miller to a secluded area in Berkeley County and beat her to death with an ax handle.

The attorneys for Jackson and West in their opening statements each said there was no evidence to link their clients to the slaying.

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Miller knew Jackson and West well and Jackson, also known as "Sway," supplied her with crack, Mucklow contended.

In October 1998, Miller was jailed on cocaine charges, Mucklow said.

When Miller was released from jail in the summer of 1999, Jackson began to wonder whether she had started working with the police, Mucklow said.

West, who also went by "D-Man," was worried because Miller, 20, of Hedgesville, knew his real name, Mucklow alleged.

Jackson, who also called himself "The President," came to Martinsburg in about 1995 and set up a crack cocaine operation, Mucklow alleged.

A woman known as Vernell Newell would sell crack for Jackson, and Jackson periodically would travel to New York to replenish his supply, Mucklow said.

West, who is Jackson's half-brother, came to Martinsburg in 1997, Mucklow said, alleging that West used Jackson as his supplier.

Both West and Jackson were charged with cocaine distribution.

In 1999, a girlfriend of Jackson's was transferred to North Carolina through her job and Jackson, Miller and others decided to help her move, Mucklow said.

During the trip down, Mucklow said, comments Miller made aroused Jackson's suspicions.

After the group returned from North Carolina, Jackson and West went to the home of Casey Michelle Holt on Pennsylvania Avenue in Martinsburg, Mucklow said.

Holt was aware that Miller had been talking about Jackson and West and that the men wanted to know the details, Mucklow said.

Miller showed up at Holt's house, and she, Holt, West, Jackson and Newell left together in a car, Mucklow said.

The group headed toward Greystone on the Opequon subdivision off W.Va. 45 west of Martinsburg, and during the car ride Miller was struck in the face, Mucklow alleged.

It was late at night when the five people arrived at the subdivision, Mucklow said.

An argument ensued and West struck Miller in the back of the head with a club and Jackson kicked her, Mucklow alleged.

"Vatressa is beaten savagely. It goes on for quite a while," Mucklow told the jurors.

West tried to drag Miller through a wooded area and her tennis shoes came off, Mucklow said.

Miller's body was found Aug. 10, which investigators believe was about five weeks after the attack, Mucklow said.

Police found hanging in a tree a bloody shirt that belonged to West, Mucklow alleged.

Attorneys for West and Jackson switched the focus to Newell and Holt.

Attorney Jim Zimarowski, representing Jackson, said the killing was caused by "good old-fashioned jealousy."

Miller had been in relationships with Jackson and West but Holt also had been involved with West, Zimarowski said.

Newell wanted a relationship with Jackson, Zimarowski said.

Zimarowski said there is no physical evidence to link Jackson to the slaying. On the other hand, Newell had blood on her following the slaying and Holt had bruised knuckles, Zimarowski contended.

"You need to view some of this evidence very carefully," Zimarowski told jurors.

Attorney Bill Cipriani, who is representing West, said there is nothing to link his client to the slaying.

The bloody shirt that was found hanging in the tree showed traces of DNA from a man, but it was not West's DNA, Cipriani said.

Jackson, West, Holt and Kirk Leon Grantham were named in a 13-count indictment in the case.

If Jackson, of 728 Winchester Ave., Martinsburg, and West, of 908 Wendover Road, Apt. D, Charlotte, N.C., are found guilty of count three of the indictment, which charges them with Miller's death, they could face up to life in prison or the death penalty.

Holt on Friday entered a guilty plea to count one of an information charging her with being an accessory after the fact to the "continuing criminal enterprise" killing of Miller, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Holt also entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of having knowledge of the killing of Miller and not making it known to a judge or other person in civil or military authority under the U.S., according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Holt faces up to 15 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine on count one and up to three years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 on count two, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Grantham, who was not charged in Miller's death, was indicted on four counts of cocaine distribution charges, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

On April 4 last year, Grantham, of Avery Street in Martinsburg, pleaded guilty to distribution of crack cocaine in Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Martinsburg, said Fawn Thomas, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office. Grantham was sentenced to 37 months in prison, Thomas said.

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