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Man gets 40 years in woman's death

April 23, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Andrew "Sway" Jackson dropped his head slightly and closed his eyes Tuesday afternoon when he was formally convicted of second-degree murder, but he stared straight ahead when a woman whose daughter Jackson is accused of helping to kill spoke.

Roxanne Crist, whose daughter Vatressa Miller was beaten to death in July 1999, said more than one person died that night.

"My family tree is gone and there's no remorse from any of them," Crist said.

Jackson and three others are accused of killing Miller, 20, on July 19, 1999. Her decomposed body was found three weeks later in a wooded area near the Grey Stone on the Opequon subdivision.

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Jackson and his half brother, Keyston J. West, each were indicted on a murder charge in connection with Miller's death, as was Casey Michelle Holt, 28.

Jurors found West guilty last month of first-degree murder and sentenced him to serve life in prison without a chance for parole. That verdict played a part in Jackson's acceptance of a plea bargain, said Jackson's attorney, Eric Black.

Jackson pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree murder and was sentenced to serve 40 years in prison. The sentence will be served at the same time as two life sentences handed down in U.S. District Court, after jurors there found Jackson guilty of several drug-related charges.

Black said he has appealed the federal court case and is awaiting a reply from U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va. His main grounds for appeal is the fact that Jackson asked the charge related to Miller's death be separated from those related to drugs. Jackson wanted to testify regarding the charge that Miller was killed, but did not want to testify in connection with the drug charges, Black said.

Federal Judge W. Craig Broadwater did not separate the charges, so Jackson did not testify, Black said.

"Mr. Jackson has always maintained that he wasn't there that night (that Miller was killed)," Black said.

Jackson now will be remanded to the custody of U.S. marshals and placed back in a federal prison.

Answering questions from Circuit Court Judge David Sanders Tuesday, Jackson said since graduating from high school, he has done construction, cooking and landscaping.

When asked if he felt he had been treated fairly, Jackson said he felt the police and "the federal bracket" treated him unfairly. When Sanders told him by entering a plea he would give up his right to try to prove that at trial, Jackson said he understood.

A no-contest plea means Jackson neither admits guilt nor proclaims innocence.

Outside the courtroom, Crist said she was bothered by the fact that neither Jackson nor his co-defendants showed any remorse.

"Evidently they don't hold much value for human life," Crist said.

Jackson's case was the last to be resolved. Holt pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and Vernell Newell, who said she hit Miller first, pleaded guilty to a drug charge. Police allege the group killed Miller because they incorrectly believed she was telling police about their drug activities.

"After four years, it's finally over, I hope," Crist said.

Crist asked Games-Neely to try to track down several pieces of jewelry, including rings and a necklace, that were found with her daughter's body.

Crist, who had "Vatressa" tattooed on her right forearm, hopes to wear the pieces of jewelry in remembrance of her daughter.

"If they'll fit," she said.

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