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West gets life in woman's murder

March 21, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jurors decided not to grant mercy to convicted killer Keyston J. West, meaning West will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance for parole.

After deliberating for about 75 minutes, the same panel of seven women and five men that on Wednesday found West guilty of first-degree murder decided on the no-mercy verdict Thursday morning.

West allegedly struck the fatal blow to Vatressa Miller's head on July 19, 1999, in a wooded spot east of Martinsburg. Three other people, two of whom confessed and accepted plea bargains, also allegedly participated in the beating.

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Miller had turned 20 not long before she was killed, her mother, Roxanne Crist, said outside of the courtroom.

Crist carried the cremated remains of her daughter, kept in a pink box, which she placed on a chair between her and her husband, Michael, during Thursday's hearing.

"She deserves her day in court, that's why I brought her," Crist said.

Although Miller had served time in jail and gotten mixed up in what may have been a bad crowd, she was trying to turn her life around, Crist said.

Shortly before her death, Miller spoke to a military recruiter, who said if she stayed out of trouble for six months, she could enlist. Miller was considering it, Crist said.

The Crists said not a day passes when Vatressa, their only daughter, is not on their minds.

"We'll never be grandparents. I won't be able to spoil grandkids," Crist said.

Because the couple's other child, a son, was born with cerebral palsy, grandchildren are not possible. "Our family tree is cut off. It's dead," Crist said.

To commemorate her daughter, Crist had a tattoo placed on her right forearm. The tattoo depicts a purple rose, with the name "Vatressa" in script below.

West stood as the no-mercy verdict was announced, and as Circuit Judge David Sanders sentenced him.

West will be returned to a federal prison in Louisiana, where he is serving two concurrent life sentences for drug charges related to Miller's death.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely, and Paul Lane, one of West's two attorneys, addressed the jury panel.

Had the jury granted mercy, West would have had a chance for parole after 15 years.

Games-Neely told the jury that West and Jackson, who are half-brothers, started a drug ring in Martinsburg, bringing 1.5 kilograms of cocaine into the area.

"If his brother is deemed to be the brains, he (West) was deemed to be the brawn," Games-Neely said.

Lane asked the jurors to disregard Games-Neely's "vehement, emotional" statements, and grant mercy. On behalf of West, Lane said he wished to express sorrow and regret for what happened to Miller and her family.

After the jury left, Lane told Sanders he likely will file an appeal. West's federal court convictions are being appealed, Lane said.

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