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Preliminary hearing for Surber postponed

June 25, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A preliminary hearing for the man charged with kidnapping and fatally stabbing Katherine Nicole Sharp was postponed Thursday so his competency could be evaluated, attorneys handling the case said.

Chief public defender Deborah A. Lawson said because of the competency question, it was her position Donald B. Surber Jr. was unable to appear in court Thursday, and he did not appear in the courtroom.

Surber, 37, of Winchester, Va., is charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder in the death of Sharp, who was stabbed multiple times during a standoff at her home at 10 Raider Lane in the Ridgefield subdivision near Martinsburg.

Surber was taken into custody by police at the end of the 26-hour standoff, which began on the morning of Sunday, June 14, and ended the following day.

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Surber's preliminary hearing will be rescheduled after a waiver was filed Thursday allowing the proceeding to be delayed beyond 20 days of his arrest as provided for by state law, according to Lawson and Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Jean Games-Neely.

No date was set during or after Thursday's proceeding.

Games-Neely said a competency evaluation probably could take between 30 and 60 days and might be completed at Eastern Regional Jail, where Surber was readmitted Wednesday.

Such an evaluation is not unusual for someone facing allegations such as those Surber faces, Games-Neely said.

Lawson, who represented Surber at Thursday's proceedings, would not say whether she had spoken with Surber, who was scheduled to appear before Magistrate Sandra L. Miller for the preliminary hearing.

As chief defender, Lawson heads up the Public Defender Corporation for the 23rd Judicial Circuit, which was appointed Thursday morning by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes to handle the case.

After being returned to Eastern Regional Jail Wednesday afternoon, Surber was arraigned on one felony count of escape from custody of the state Commissioner of Corrections by Magistrate Joan V. Bragg via video conference, according to court records.

Surber indicated to Bragg during his arraignment hearing he had no children, other dependents or income in a financial affidavit that is required to be filed with the court to determine whether he is eligible for a court-appointed attorney.

Bragg set no bond for Surber, according to records.

The escape charge stems from Surber's alleged attempt to flee from correctional officers last Friday at City Hospital in Martinsburg, police said.

Surber was taken to City Hospital for medical treatment after he cut his wrists while incarcerated at Eastern Regional Jail, police had said.

After he was treated at the hospital, Surber tried to flee from the facility and then reached for a correctional officer's gun, police have said. An officer shot him once, wounding him in the arm and torso, police have said.

Surber was taken to Winchester Medical Center for the gunshot wounds, and was returned Wednesday to Berkeley County after he waived extradition.

Several officers with the Martinsburg Police Department and Berkeley County Sheriff's Department provided additional security for Surber's transport to the Berkeley County Judicial Center about 30 minutes before his scheduled hearing Thursday morning.

Officers, some carrying assault rifles, fanned out into the judicial center parking lot Thursday morning in advance of Surber's arrival in a regional jail van, which was escorted by two sheriff's department vehicles.

"We're just not going to take any chances," Sheriff Kenneth M. Lemaster Jr. said of the enhanced security measures that he said will continue to be put into effect when Surber is being transported. "We don't want anything to happen that's happened at other courthouses."

Six deputies and a K-9 comprised the security detail for Surber's transport Wednesday from Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester, Lemaster had said.

After the proceeding ended Thursday, loved ones of Sharp were escorted from the judicial center by a sheriff's department deputy. One held a picture of the victim in her hand, showing it to reporters while walking to the parking lot.

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