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Magistrate recuses herself from man's hearing

July 26, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Berkeley County magistrate was recused from presiding over the state's case against a man charged in the death of Douglas "Scott" Funk II after she told an assistant prosecutor that she "agonized" over the allegations levied by police, officials said Wednesday.

Magistrate Jo Ann Overington's request for voluntary recusal from proceedings involving Christopher M. Speikers was granted Tuesday by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, Prosecutor Pamela J. Games-Neely said Wednesday.

Speikers, 22, of 13095 Back Creek Valley Road in Berkeley County, is accused of punching Funk in the nose July 12, then choking the 23-year-old Hedgesville, W.Va., area man unconscious in an altercation at the victim's home. Funk died July 13 at City Hospital in Martinsburg.

Speikers was charged last week with second-degree murder.

In a brief court appearance Wednesday, Speikers waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing. About an hour later, his case was reassigned to Magistrate Sandra L. Miller, who promptly signed off on an agreement between Games-Neely and defense attorney Kevin D. Mills to reduce Speikers' bond from $500,000 cash-only to $25,000 cash or surety.

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"We have an agreement that he will be released (from Eastern Regional Jail) by 2:30 p.m. (today)," Mills said after terms of his client's home confinement were resolved.

In Overington's formal request for recusal, the magistrate admitted that she shared doubts about the pending murder charge against Speikers with the assistant prosecuting attorney assigned to her cases.

"On July 23, I told my assistant prosecutor, Stephanie Saunders, that I had agonized all weekend about the Speikers case and I couldn't see him accused of murder," Overington wrote. "I now realize that I don't want to this construed as making a decision without having all the facts. Please recuse me from this case."

Games-Neely said Wilkes signed off on the recusal request in place of supervising 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders, who is on vacation.

Games-Neely said the bond for Speikers was set at $500,000 cash-only because he had no local ties to the community.

In his petition, Mills asserted Speikers was not a flight risk because he cooperated with police, never had been arrested and would reside with his roommate's parents if released on bond.

"He was on the phone with 911 (after the altercation) ... He has no previous criminal record, not even a traffic ticket," Mills said in an interview at the Berkeley County Judicial Center.

Mills said his client was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, and only relocated to Berkeley County a few months ago from Florida. His parents live in Minnesota, Mills said.

Mills said he was retained by friends of his client, and confirmed that his roommate's parents provided a justification of surety - their home - to obtain his release from jail.

In defense of his client, Mills maintained that Speikers on July 12 had intervened in an altercation between Funk and his younger brother in the interest of saving another person's life.

"It's a tragedy," Mills said of Funk's death and the family's loss. "But a tragedy doesn't equal a criminal offense."

As part of the bond reduction agreement, Speikers must have no contact with Funk's family.

Speikers has been at Eastern Regional Jail since July 12, when he was charged with malicious assault, according to court records. The assault charge was dismissed last week, and Speikers was arraigned on the murder charge.

Funk died at City Hospital about 24 hours after he was taken by ambulance from his home in the Brookstone subdivision at 244 Dinner Belle Court, police have said.

"During the emergency call, the accused stated, 'I went too far!'" according to West Virginia State Police Trooper J.S. Chumley's complaint.

Chumley said the accused told police that after hitting Funk in the nose, he placed his arm under Funk's chin/throat area and placed the heel of his hand on top of the victim's head and pushed down on the victim's head toward the floor.

A second-degree murder conviction carries a penalty of 10 to 40 years in prison, according to court records.

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