Testimony allowed for W.Va. murder trial

January 30, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Testimony in the second pre-trial hearing for the man accused of fatally slashing his grandmother's throat focused on whether the man was pressured into giving statements to police.

A defense attorney for Terry Eugene Walter, 27, argued that the West Virginia State Police troopers who took the statements intimated that Walter had no choice in giving them.

Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes ruled that the three statements in question can be heard at Walter's trial, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday. Andrew Arnold, one of Walter's two attorneys, said Walter will decide by today whether to accept a plea bargain offered by prosecutors.


Walter is charged with killing 72-year-old Vera M. Clark on Sept. 17, 2000, after taking more than $12,000 from her bank account by forging checks to himself.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely declared that theft was the motive in Clark's killing.

"She died ... because she wanted this money back," Games-Neely told Wilkes.

State trooper R.C. Copson and former Trooper T.J. Taucher both took the stand to testify about the statements.

Two of the statements dealt with Walter's whereabouts in the early morning hours when police believe Clark was killed. The third concerned blood found on a set of Walter's keys.

The first statement was taken inside Walter's trailer a few hours after Clark's body was found.

Walter told police that he and several others were together at a friend's house and then went to Loose Cannons, a local bar. He told investigators he was there from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Police believe Clark was killed between 1 and 4 a.m., Games-Neely has said.

Walter seemed unaffected by the news that Clark had been killed, Copson testified.

"It was odd to me that he was so calm about everything," Copson said.

On cross-examination, Arnold asked whether police:

  • Told Walter they were investigating Clark's murder.

  • Advised Walter of his Miranda rights.

  • Offered him a drink.

  • Asked Walter if he needed to go to the bathroom.

  • Told him he did not have to answer questions.

Copson answered "no" to all of the questions.

Arnold said the statement should be excluded from the trial because Copson and another officer sat in two chairs in front of Walter, separating him from the door.

"They blocked him from exiting his own trailer,"which constituted "constructive custody," Arnold said.

The second statement was taken on Sept. 21, after Walter and his wife voluntarily went to the state police barrack in Martinsburg.

Walter was questioned again about his whereabouts and submitted blood, saliva, hair and handwriting samples. Arnold said that statement should be suppressed because Walter was questioned in a windowless room commonly used to interview suspects.

Wilkes disagreed.

"It's hard to build a coercion case when he voluntarily went," Wilkes said.

The final statement was taken Sept. 23, when Walter went to the state police barrack in Bardane, W.Va., to pick up his Chevrolet Cavalier, which had been seized and searched by police.

He signed a form advising him that he was not under arrest and of his Miranda rights, Taucher testified.

When police asked him about blood on a set of keys found in the car, Walter first said he knew nothing about it, but then said it may have been fish blood, Taucher testified.

Authorities do not know exactly what kind of weapon was used.

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