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Murder-for-hire trial set to begin today

September 26, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Jury selection is expected to begin at 9 a.m. today in Berkeley County Circuit Court in the trial of a man allegedly hired to kill Debbie K. Bivens of Inwood, W.Va., in August 2005.

In a pretrial hearing Monday for Timothy Charles Odell, 23rd Judicial Circuit judge Christopher C. Wilkes decided to allow a suicide note - apparently written by the man who hired the accused - to be introduced to the jury as part of the state's case.

The jury is expected to be selected from a pool of 50 people.

Odell, 26, was indicted in February by a grand jury on counts of murder and conspiracy to commit the murder of Bivens at her Camelot subdivision home.

Odell denies being the shooter in Bivens' death on Aug. 21, 2005, but excerpts of the suicide note by Benjamin Brookman previously released by police indicate the accused was given partial payment for the homicide, police have said.

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Brookman's body was found Aug. 31 in a state of advanced decomposition hanging by a thin cord tied to a tree stand in a hunting area of Worcester County, Md., Bureau of Investigation detective Patrick A. Thompsen testified Monday.

A .38-caliber revolver was found at Brookman's feet. The barrel of the gun was found stuck in the marshy ground, where it fell after he apparently shot and hanged himself at virtually the same time, Thompsen said.

An 11-page suicide note written on a yellow tablet in a black leather "portfolio" was found inside the cab of a gray Ford pickup truck parked about 200 feet from the body, Thompsen testified.

The keys to the vehicle were found in Brookman's pants pocket.

The note was not signed and Thompsen acknowledged the handwriting had not been analyzed, but Wilkes determined that it was admissible under the "totality of the circumstances," including the way the note was found and the way it was written.

Brookman had a personal and business relationship with Bivens and committed suicide a week after her death, police have said.

Bivens, 46, was shot once in her upper left chest while in her bedroom, police have said.

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