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Odell found guilty

September 29, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for nearly 10 hours Thursday before finding a 27-year-old Berkeley County man guilty of first-degree murder in the August 2005 shooting death of Debbie K. Bivens.

Timothy Charles Odell also was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, but jurors attached mercy to count one of their verdict, meaning he could be eligible for parole after serving at least 15 years of a life prison sentence. Odell could be sentenced to up to five years in prison for the conspiracy conviction, according to 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, who presided over the three-day trial.

Wilkes set a sentencing date for 9 a.m. Nov. 3, after thanking jurors for their attentiveness and saying it was an honor to work with them on the case.

At least three jurors wiped tears from their eyes after the verdict was read a few minutes before 10 p.m.

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Bivens' son, Glen Bivens, 27, and daughter, Ginger Buckland, 30, said they were as satisfied as they could be with the outcome after the jury was excused.

"I personally wish we were never in this situation," said Glen Bivens, who appeared relatively calm upon hearing the verdict. "I don't actually like seeing someone going to prison that was my age."

"Him going to prison is not going to make our pain go away," Buckland added. "She was a very delightful, happy, new grandmother when she died."

"We're grateful for the verdict for the family," said Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely, who had expected the outcome to be decided more quickly. "In our opinion, we thought this case was a very clean-cut, murder-for-hire."

The jury asked Wilkes to respond to six questions during deliberations. Most concerned whether Odell's two-hour statement to police about Bivens' death on the evening of Aug. 21 or in the early hours of Aug. 22 was "voluntarily and freely given."

"That got really frightening," Games-Neely said.

Odell repeatedly denied shooting Bivens in the statement to police the day after Bivens was found dead Aug. 24, 2005. A video recording of Odell's statement was shown to jurors Wednesday.

In the interview, Odell told investigating Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputies he was to be paid $5,000 by Benjamin F. Brookman of Salisbury, Md., to drive a shooter to the residence. That individual was never found or clearly described to police, according to Deputy Cpl. B.F. Hall's testimony.

Odell also admitted to Hall and another deputy that he was aware of what was planned and that a firearm was going to be involved, but repeatedly denied ever having the murder weapon, allegedly a .40-caliber handgun. The weapon was not found.

Brookman committed suicide apparently after learning the "job was done" and Bivens had been killed on the day she was found by police, according to an 11-page note Brookman left behind.

In a suicide note that was allowed as evidence in a hearing a day before the trial started, Brookman said Odell was to blame for unraveling the plot and noted that he was to pay him $50,000 to shoot Bivens.

"Timothy Odell is the ghost in the night that none of us would like to know," Games-Neely said in closing arguments.

Games-Neely argued that Brookman employed Odell for the shooting because Bivens didn't know the accused. Brookman realized he would be the prime suspect if he carried out the act himself, Games-Neely said. Police have said Brookman apparently had a relationship with Bivens.

"Debbie doesn't know Tim," Games-Neely said. "He's the ghost in all of this."

Games-Neely also revisited testimony by Odell's friend, Ramsey Turner, who told police after Bivens was killed that the accused had shown him what investigators believe ultimately was the murder weapon.

"How did Ramsey know it was going to be a .40-caliber weapon? There's no way," Games-Neely said. "The mystery man in this case does not exist."

Defense attorney B. Craig Manford suggested in his closing remarks that investigators didn't give the jury a chance to look at all of the evidence and questioned whether police had fully examined Brookman's suicide note implicating Odell.

"Dead men tell no tales. Well this one did," said Manford, who quietly slipped out of the courtroom and was not available to comment about the jurors' decision.

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