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Judge to decide whether photos to be allowed in trial

March 10, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A judge on Friday kept copies of two photographs that depict a decomposed body so he can determine whether they should be shown to jurors during upcoming related murder trials.

The photographs show how 20-year-old Vatressa Miller's body and skull looked when police found her remains in a wooded area August 10, 1999. Police believe Miller was killed three weeks earlier on July 19, 1999.

In May, 2000, three people were indicted on one count each of murder in connection with Miller's death. Casey Michelle Holt, 28; Keyston J. West, 26; and Andrew Charles Jackson, 25, are just now facing trial because drug cases against them were heard first in U.S. District Court.

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Jurors found Jackson and West guilty of several drug-related charges and each man was sentenced to serve two concurrent life sentences.

Holt accepted a plea bargain, testified against Jackson and West, and was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison.

Another plea bargain is expected to be worked out for the murder charge pending against Holt, with the condition that she again testify against West and Jackson, according to Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely and Holt's attorney Barry Beck.

A fourth person, Vernell Newell, who admits she was present when Miller was killed, but who never was charged in connection with the murder, is serving 20 years in prison for a drug conviction. She, too, is expected to testify against West and Jackson, Games-Neely said.

After they allegedly took Miller to a wooded, secluded spot, Jackson, West and Holt beat her with a club, kicked and punched her, Games-Neely said.

The ax handle and log believed to have been used as murder weapons were brought to Jackson's pre-trial hearing Friday morning, concealed in a black plastic bag. They were not removed from the bag.

Miller was killed because Jackson and West wrongfully believed she was a police informant, Games-Neely said. Jackson and West held that belief in part because when Miller was released from jail for a minor drug charge, she immediately asked Jackson to "front her" crack cocaine, Games-Neely said in court on Friday.

Also, when Jackson and West threatened to harm another man, Miller warned him, Games-Neely said.

When Games-Neely said she intended to let jurors hear testimony that Miller asked for crack cocaine from Jackson, Jackson's defense attorney Eric Black objected. Black said that would unfairly paint his client as a drug dealer in the jurors' eyes.

Sanders said he will allow the testimony.

The cases are on track for trial. West's trial is set to begin later this month, and Jackson's in May. Barring a plea bargain, Holt's trial is slated for June.

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