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Man pleads to slashing grandmother's throat

February 02, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Days before his trial was to begin, an Inwood, W.Va., man accused of fatally slashing his grandmother's throat pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree murder.

The plea ended a case the prosecutor called one of the strangest on which she has worked.

Terry Eugene Walter, 27, was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison.

Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said the plea was offered in part because she worried a jury might not have found the crime was premeditated - a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction; because physical evidence was limited to a few tiny drops of blood; and because some witnesses changed their stories more than once.

In front of Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes on Friday afternoon, Walter said he understood the charge against him, and that it was true. He stood showing no emotion as Wilkes pronounced him formally convicted of the crime.

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Under the plea bargain's circumstances, Walter was not required to recite facts related to the case.

Walter was accused of slashing 72-year-old Vera M. Clark's throat in the early morning hours of Sept. 17, 2000, after stealing a book of her checks and writing them out to himself for $12,000. He must repay the money after he is released from prison.

If Walter complies with the terms of his plea bargain, including requirements that he pass a polygraph test and testify against others if needed, 18 felony counts of forgery and uttering will be dismissed.

Games-Neely said evidence indicates a second person was probably present when Clark's throat was slashed.

"Whether (Walter) was the knife-wielder or not, I don't know," Games-Neely said after the hearing. "Was he responsible? Yes."

Only one person took the stand during the plea bargain hearing - Walter's father, Lester Walter. Walter's stepmother watched from the gallery. No other family members were present.

When Wilkes asked Lester Walter if all family members agreed with the plea, he said he believed so.

"I'd rather see a shorter sentence myself," Lester Walter said.

Games-Neely said that after Terry Walter was arrested, his family members asked that a misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter be pressed against him. When she refused, they asked for voluntary manslaughter, a felony, she said. She again refused.

Outside of the courtroom, Lester Walter told reporters he favored a lesser sentence in part because of his son's family.

"He's got a wife and two kids and the kids need him," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, the case is still pending" because of the possibility that a second person was involved, he said. "It'll never be over."

Little physical evidence connected Walter to the crime, Games-Neely said. Tests done on blood found on a pair of Walter's shorts were not conclusive for DNA, and police never recovered the murder weapon.

Microscopic drops of blood found on Walter's keys were matched to Clark, Games-Neely said. The keys were found inside Walter's 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier.

"That was the sole link to him in this crime," Games-Neely said. "There's no other physical evidence that links him."

Because Clark's upper body, including her throat, was covered with a pillow, police initially looked toward family members as possible suspects, Games-Neely said.

That act seemed like a psychological effect of someone trying to remove himself from the victim, she said.

All family members had viable alibis except for Walter, she said.

Games-Neely said she believes Walter and the other unknown assailant confronted Clark, seeking money.

"(Clark) refused and it all went bad," Games-Neely said.

Clark lived with her son, Lester Walter. There were no signs of forced entry, and nobody else was home when Clark was killed, Games-Neely said.

After the 25-minute plea hearing, one of Walter's attorneys, S. Andrew Arnold, said, "Terry is satisfied and I'm relieved to resolve a complex case prior to trial."

With West Virginia's "good time" provision - in which an inmate receives one day off his sentence for every day of good behavior - Walter could be released in 15 years.

Parole proceedings will start in about seven years, Games-Neely said.

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