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Trial for man facing murder charges set to begin next week

September 10, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - One of the men charged with beating a 93-year-old man to death more than a year ago was in court for a pretrial hearing Thursday, when one of the issues discussed was whether calling him a "gypsy" could be unduly prejudicial to jurors.

Christopher Mark Grady, 38, was indicted in May on charges of felony murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. He is charged with helping to beat Delbert Rodgers to death on Jan. 5, 2003, inside Rodgers' Airport Road home.

Grady's trial is to begin Wednesday.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said she believes several witnesses probably would refer to a local group of "gypsies" or "travelers."

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She said whether such comments would be prejudicial probably could be determined during the jury selection process.

Grady's attorney, Delby Pool, said that is possible, but wondered whether jurors might view his client unfavorably.

Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes, who is presiding over the case, said that most people polled on the street likely would think "gypsies" could be found only in places like Hungary.

Locally, Wilkes said, he and police sometimes associate "gypsies" with scams that involve driveway sealing and paving.

While Grady was not involved directly in any paving schemes, Games-Neely alleged that Rodgers was murdered after he was confronted about paying for a driveway paving job for which he never contracted.

Wilkes ruled that terms like "gypsies" can be used during the trial because they are connected to what happened on the day Rodgers was killed.

Also charged with murder are John Dignazio, 30, who was imprisoned in Virginia but has since been brought to Eastern Regional Jail outside Martinsburg; and Kevin Cornell, 42, of 121 Fairfax St., Martinsburg.

The state's case relies on statements given to police by Dignazio after a caretaker found Rodgers' body.

According to a taped statement Dignazio gave that was previously played in a separate court hearing, Dignazio told police a year after Rodgers was killed that he bound Rodgers with duct tape and pushed him, and that Cornell and Grady beat and kicked Rodgers.

Dignazio said he and the other two men were wearing gloves, according to the statement.

No fingerprints, usable footprints, blood evidence, hairs or fibers were found at the scene that would link any of the men to Rodgers' home, West Virginia State Police Trooper J.C. Weaver has said.

Rodgers died from blunt force traumatic injuries to his head and chest, a state medical examiner determined. He was bound and his sternum and several ribs were broken, according to the autopsy report.

Other matters handled during the pretrial hearing included photographs. Games-Neely said she will not introduce autopsy photographs as evidence, but will instead rely upon drawings done by the medical examiner.

She also asked Pool whether he plans to call any witnesses or introduce any exhibits of his own.

Pool said no, but asked that he be allowed to use the state's witnesses and exhibits as his own.

Games-Neely told Wilkes that she believes Pool intends to argue that his client was not present when the murder happened. Pool agreed but did not elaborate.

The trial is expected to last two days, Games-Neely said.

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