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W.Va. murder trial delayed

Hard drive not copied for James Robert JonesâEUR(TM) defense

Hard drive not copied for James Robert JonesâEUR(TM) defense

November 30, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? The trial of a man accused of shooting a bartender at a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., area business was rescheduled for a third time on Friday primarily because a copy of a computer hard drive seized by police after the December 2006 homicide was not provided to the man's defense attorney.

James Robert Jones, 26, of 180 Campground Road in Jefferson County was indicted in April 2007 on a charge of first-degree murder in the Dec. 2, 2006, death of Michael Mihalik, 26, of Harpers Ferry.

Police have said Jones walked into the Cliffside Bar and Grill at the Quality Inn along U.S. 340 about 10 p.m. and opened fire with a 9 mm automatic handgun.

Angered to learn that the hard drive had not been copied by a West Virginia State Police trooper in Morgantown, W.Va., and given to defense attorney Aaron C. Amore since he requested it in August, presiding 23rd Judicial Circuit judge David H. Sanders concluded in a pretrial hearing Friday that "come hell or high water" the exchange would take place before the new trial date, specifically within 10 days.

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Trial has been deyaled repeatedly

Sanders ultimately agreed to delay the trial until Jan. 22, 2008.

The trial was originally scheduled to begin Aug. 7 and then rescheduled until Oct. 2 to consider reports on Jones' competency, and delayed again for related reasons.

Amore told Sanders on Friday that he planned to argue that Jones had a diminished mental capacity when the shooting happened, and wanted the medical records and any relevant evidence on his client's hard drive available for possible use in his defense.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Larry Crofford told Sanders that the state's case didn't include any evidence from the hard drive, which he said wasn't processed by a State Police sergeant in Morgantown because the agency was "woefully" behind schedule. Crofford noted that only two troopers statewide were assigned to handle such computer-related forensics work.

Defense attorney wants hard drive to argue 'diminished mental capacity'

"The state is prepared to move forward without it," Crofford said. "I certainly understand Mr. Amore's concern."

Amore said Jones used the computer extensively to send e-mail and other writings, and he believed it was possible the content on the hard drive might corroborate medical records and testimony by physicians who first saw Jones when he was booked at Eastern Regional Jail.

In addition to the hard drive, Amore told Sanders he was unable to get a response from the doctors who treated his client at the jail and also had difficulty obtaining his client's medical records at Eastern Regional Jail. Amore learned Friday after a phone call by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Ralph Lorenzetti that the jail had two files for Jones. One incorrectly listed Jones' middle name as his first, and Internet records maintained by the state's jail and correctional facility authority reflected the error on Friday evening.

Attorneys noted on Friday that Jones had waived his right to a speedy trial.

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