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Attorney argues double jeopardy in murder case

During a pre-trial hearing Friday, the defense attorney for Keyston West said "he was tried and convicted in essence of the s

During a pre-trial hearing Friday, the defense attorney for Keyston West said "he was tried and convicted in essence of the s

March 17, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A defense attorney argued Friday that the murder charge pending against 26-year-old Keyston West should be dismissed because of the double jeopardy rule.

West, of Louisiana, was tried and convicted last year in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg on one count of killing in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise, along with several drug-related charges. He is serving two life sentences.

West and two others are accused of fatally beating 20-year-old Vatressa Miller in the summer of 1999 because they believed she was giving information about their drug activities to police.

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To charge West with murder in Circuit Court constitutes double jeopardy, attorney Paul Lane told Circuit Court Judge David Sanders during a pre-trial hearing Friday afternoon.

"He was tried and convicted in essence of the same crime," Lane said.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely, however, said West was never prosecuted for the murder itself. And Sanders added that murder is a charge left to state, not federal, courts.

Sanders denied the motion to dismiss the charge, and West's trial is on track to begin next Tuesday.

Two others are charged in connection with the death of Miller, including West's half brother, 25-year-old Charles Jackson, and Casey Holt, 28.

A plea bargain is expected to be officially worked out Monday for Holt, Games-Neely said. She and Holt's attorney are working out how many years in prison Holt should be sentenced to serve.

Holt also worked out a plea bargain in federal court and testified against West and Jackson. She is serving an 18-year sentence after pleading guilty in federal court to one count of being an accessory after the fact to the killing of Miller and not disclosing knowledge of the killing.

A fourth person connected to the case, Vernell Newell, admits she was present when the murder happened and testified against West and Jackson in federal court. Newell told Sanders on Friday that she will testify again in Circuit Court.

Newell has not and will not be charged in connection with the killing, Games-Neely said. After pleading guilty to a drug charge in federal court, Newell is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Games-Neely offered a plea bargain to West, in which he would have pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a recommendation of mercy, but he turned it down, West said Friday.

On Aug. 10, 1999, Miller's decomposed body was found in a wooded area near Grey Stone on the Opequon, a housing development off Scrabble Road. Police believe Miller was killed three weeks earlier, on July 19, 1999.

Jackson's trial, in which many of the same witnesses and much of the same evidence will be used as in West's, is expected to begin in May.

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