Man enters guilty plea in 1999 murder

April 22, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - One of the people accused of killing a 20-year-old woman nearly four years ago agreed to a plea bargain in court Monday.

Andrew "Sway" Jackson, 25, agreed to plead guilty to one count of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Vatressa Miller and will be sentenced to serve 40 years in prison, the maximum sentence possible.

The 40-year sentence will be served at the same time as two life sentences Jackson is serving after he was convicted of related crimes in U.S. District Court.


Jackson and several others are accused of killing Miller on July 19, 1999. Three weeks later, her decomposed body was found in a wooded area near the Grey Stone on the Opequon subdivision off W.Va. 45 east of Martinsburg.

Prosecutors previously offered a plea bargain to Jackson in which he would have pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a chance at parole. On Friday, Jackson's attorney asked Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely if she would consider a second-degree murder plea.

Miller's parents agreed to the plea bargain Monday morning. When Circuit Court Judge David Sanders asked Miller's mother, Roxanne Crist, if she understood and agreed with the plea, Crist answered "yes."

Sanders is scheduled to formally accept the plea today.

A month ago, jurors found Jackson's half brother, Keyston J. West, guilty of first-degree murder. Police allege West hit Miller's head with a log, killing her.

Jackson was present when Miller was killed, Games-Neely alleged.

"He was there kicking and striking," Games-Neely said. She said Jackson most likely did not directly cause the woman's death. "We still believe him to be the brains behind this operation."

Previously Jackson was found guilty in U.S. District Court of several charges related to Miller's death, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, drug conspiracy, distributing crack cocaine and carrying two firearms during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime. Among other sentences, he was sentenced to serve two life sentences. He was not granted a chance for parole.

Two of the three other people indicted in connection with Miller's death also worked out plea bargains. Casey Michelle Holt, 28, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to serve 36 years in prison. Vernell Newell, 32, who admitted she was present when Miller was killed, pleaded guilty to a drug charge in U.S. District Court and is serving a 20-year prison sentence. Both Holt and Newell testified against West, the fourth person charged.

Police allege the group took Miller to the secluded spot to kill her, in part because they incorrectly believed she was telling police about their drug activities.

Games-Neely told jurors during West's trial that West and Jackson started a drug ring in Martinsburg, bringing 1.5 kilograms of cocaine into the area.

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