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Former W.Va. taxi owner sentenced on manslaughter charg

April 30, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A former taxi company owner, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter after a man with whom he fought last year died, pleaded no contest Tuesday to the misdemeanor charge.

James C. Owens, 43, of Martinsburg, was sentenced to serve one year in jail, the maximum sentence possible.

Owens agreed to plead no contest to the charge if prosecutors agreed not to make a sentencing recommendation, said Assistant Prosecutor Betsy Giggenbach, who handled the case.

Magistrate Joan Bragg handed down the sentence after a woman close to the victim spoke, requesting the maximum sentence.

Owens read a letter in which he expressed remorse.

Owens was arraigned on the charge on Dec. 31, 2002, more than a month after he fought with Ernest Stevens, who was described in court records as "elderly."

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The fight happened Nov. 10, 2002, in front of the Martinsburg Wal-Mart as Owens was operating a taxi for his now-defunct company, Elite Taxi, court records show.

Stevens died on Dec. 3. A medical examiner determined he suffered from several medical problems, including heart failure.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said the manslaughter charge was filed because the beating played a part in Stevens' death, whether his death was intentional or not.

Initially, Owens told police that he hit the older man in self-defense. However, witnesses identified Owens as the aggressor, court records show.

Two weeks after Owens was charged, state Public Service Commission officials ordered Owens to cease operating the taxi company, in part because Owens used "physical violence, threats and intimidation, including the use of handguns, in the course of business," records allege.

When he refused to close down, state officials charged Owens in February with four counts of violating a Public Service Commission order.

Earlier this month, Owens pleaded guilty to one of those misdemeanor counts, and was sentenced to serve 90 days in jail. The other three counts were dropped as part of a plea bargain.

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