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Inmate arraigned on murder charge

Keyston J. West is already serving two life sentences on related charges in the death of 20-year-old Vatressa Miller.

Keyston J. West is already serving two life sentences on related charges in the death of 20-year-old Vatressa Miller.

December 10, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - One of the three people accused of killing a woman in the summer of 1999 because he believed she was a police informant was arraigned Monday in Berkeley County Circuit Court on one count of murder.

Keyston J. West, 25, who is serving two life sentences for related convictions, was brought to Circuit Court from the Eastern Regional Jail for the brief arraignment. West pleaded innocent to indictments charging him with murder and a misdemeanor count of carrying a concealed weapon.

His trial is scheduled for March.

Grand jurors indicted West and two others on murder charges in May 2000 in the beating death of 20-year-old Vatressa Miller.

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The indictments were put on hold while the three cases were heard in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg, a block away. There, a jury found West guilty of killing Miller in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise, two counts of distribution of crack cocaine and drug conspiracy.

He was sentenced to serve two concurrent life sentences, along with two 20-year concurrent prison sentences.

A co-defendant and West's half-brother, Andrew Charles Jackson, 25, was found guilty of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, drug conspiracy, four counts of distributing crack cocaine and carrying two firearms during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.

Jackson was sentenced to serve two concurrent life sentences, along with four 20-year sentences to run concurrently and a five-year sentence for the firearms charge, to run consecutively. Neither man was granted a chance for parole.

Casey Michelle Holt, 28, also was charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the killing of Miller and not disclosing knowledge of the killing. She was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison.

A fourth person who prosecutors said was present when Miller was killed, Vernell Newell, testified against Jackson and West, and pleaded guilty in March 2000 to one count of distributing crack cocaine. She was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison.

In court Monday, West smiled and whispered to other inmates from the jail who were taken to court for separate reasons. With small dreadlocks and a thin mustache and goatee, West also exchanged mouthed phrases with a man in the audience, until a bailiff warned the man in the gallery to stop.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said it has always been understood that the murder charges would be handled in Circuit Court, and the drug charges in federal court.

Despite the sentences handed down to West and Jackson in federal court, including a life sentence for killing Miller to continue their drug ring, Games-Neely said she still planned to pursue the murder charges, which she said does not constitute double jeopardy.

"The murder's unanswered. The murder was never prosecuted," Games-Neely said, adding that some uncertainty exists because West and Jackson have appealed their convictions. "Appeals are strange," she said.

Games-Neely said Holt, who is imprisoned elsewhere, will be brought back both as a witness and defendant. She has not yet been arraigned on the murder charge.

Jackson has been arraigned, and is scheduled to be tried early next year.

Holt, Jackson, West and Newell allegedly left Holt's house together with Miller on July 19, 1999, according to earlier federal court testimony. After taking Miller to a wooded, secluded spot east of Martinsburg, Jackson, West and Holt beat Miller with a club, kicked and punched her, Games-Neely alleged. Miller suffered injuries to her face, chest and hands. Her body was found Aug. 10, 1999.

Contrary to the defendants' belief, Miller was not working with the police, Games-Neely said.

At the end of Monday's hearing, West's attorney, Paul Lane, asked whether bail might be granted for his client. It was a moot point, however, because West is "here on loan" from federal authorities and ineligible for bail because of the federal sentences, Games-Neely said.

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