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Man charged with threatening hunters enters Alford plea

September 06, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Kearneysville, W.Va., man who was accused of threatening three black hunters at gunpoint in a field near Leetown in 1998 entered an Alford plea to brandishing Thursday in Jefferson County Circuit Court, court officials said.

A jury had convicted David Lee Bell Jr. of wanton endangerment in January of last year, but that conviction was overturned. The same jury cleared him of three counts of violating civil rights.

Bell was accused of pointing a rifle at Clyde M. Eggleton and his two sons on Nov. 25, 1998, in a field near Leetown, W.Va., telling them he owned the land and threatening to shoot them if they returned. Bell also allegedly used a racial slur.

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Eggleton told police he believed someone else owned the land.

The West Virginia Supreme Court later ordered a new trial for Bell, saying the jury should have also been allowed to consider a lesser offense of brandishing against Bell.

The Supreme Court justices said it would have been impossible for Bell to have committed wanton endangerment without first committing brandishing.

Brandishing is the showing of a weapon in a menacing manner.

Bell was set to stand trial again on the wanton endangerment charge when he decided to enter the plea Thursday before Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr., according to Bell's attorney, David Camilletti.

Bell decided to enter an Alford plea to brandishing to avoid the risk of being convicted on the felony charge of wanton endangerment, which carries a prison term of up to five years, said Camilletti.

Brandishing is a misdemeanor that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail, Camilletti said.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that there is enough evidence to gain a conviction.

Under a plea agreement, Bell is to receive a six-month suspended sentence, according to Debra Young of the Victim Assistance Program, a division of the prosecuting attorney's office.

Bell is to receive two years of probation, said Young. During the first year of probation, Bell is to be prohibited from possessing firearms, she said.

If Bell has met all the terms of the agreement during the second year of probation, he may use firearms to hunt, Young said.

The plea agreement has not been accepted by Steptoe, who will review the agreement on Oct. 11 at 1 p.m., said Young.

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