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No verdict yet in Martinsburg murder trial

jurors to resume deliberations today

September 05, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Jurors seated for the trial of a man charged in the 2007 Memorial Day weekend homicide of Tina Marie Starcher were unable to reach a verdict Thursday after deliberating for about three hours.

The panel's foreperson in the trial of Anthony Charles Juntilla told presiding 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders that they wished to return today in a handwritten note delivered by a court bailiff just before 7 p.m.

Sanders said the jury's request was "perfectly reasonable," and he asked the six men and six women on the panel to reconvene today at 9 a.m. and not to deliberate with their family or friends or read media accounts of the trial, which now continues into a fourth day.

Juntilla, 39, of Hedgesville, W.Va., and Fred D. Douty II, 30, of Martinsburg, both were indicted in February on counts of felony murder, first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault and conspiracy.

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Douty in June entered a guilty plea to felony murder, which involves committing a felony in the course of a homicide.

Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely asked jurors to convict Juntilla of first-degree murder after concluding her presentation Thursday afternoon.

"(Juntilla) needs to be found guilty," Games-Neely said in her closing arguments. "You cannot kill human beings. They are not throwaway people."

Believed to have been killed on the night of May 26 or early May 27, 2007, Starcher's body was not found until June 20 in a power line right-of-way between Dam No. 4 Road and Rockymarsh Run near the community of Scrabble.

West Virginia Chief Medical Examiner James A. Kaplan testified Thursday that Starcher's remains were "severely decomposed," but death investigators were able to obtain enough prints from one finger to confirm her identification through a database that had her prints on file.

Starcher died from fatal physical assault and that the manner of death was homicide, Kaplan said.

Evidence of the assault included fractures around her nasal area, right shoulder blade and at least four broken ribs, Kaplan said.

Forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley testified that the nasal area fractures could have been caused by being struck with a fist. Douty had testified that Juntilla punched Starcher multiple times while she was sexually assaulted. The broken ribs appeared to be caused by multiple blows and the shoulder blade fracture was the result of significant force, possibly when Starcher's' body was dumped along Dam No. 4 Road, Owsley said.

Games-Neely told the jury Thursday that the findings of DNA testing were not as solid as the state would have preferred, but she reminded jurors that the results also showed that Starcher and Juntilla could not be excluded from being in the basement of the townhouse in The Woods subdivision where Juntilla and his now ex-girlfriend, Stefanie Brennan, were staying.

DNA samples could not be obtained from Starcher's remains, experts said Thursday, but test results of a piece of a pillowcase taken from Starcher's home off Centre Street in Martinsburg appeared to provide a missing link for Games-Neely's case.

The pillow cover had been washed, but DNA analysis still was able to be performed and the results were compared with swabs of saliva from Starcher's biological father and daughter, who also testified Thursday.

After Starcher was killed, Douty said they loaded her body into a blue tote and put her in the trunk of Juntilla's father's car and drove to the end of Dam No. 4 Road. There, they had planned to dump the body into the Potomac River at the boat ramp, but a person seen fishing there caused them to turn around and Juntilla dumped the body over the bank along the road on their way out of a secluded area.

B. Craig Manford, Juntilla's attorney, on Thursday all but completely dismissed the DNA findings, which only appeared to more concretely confirm that fluid recovered on couch skirting in the basement belonged to Douty.

"All of this DNA stuff, most of it, probably 90 percent of it, doesn't mean a hill of beans," Manford said in his closing arguments.

By deciding not to pursue a felony murder conviction of Juntilla, Manford asserted that the state didn't think it could prove that his client sexually assaulted Starcher like Douty had admitted.

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