W.Va. man charged with murder said Hagerstown woman shot herself

Videotaped statement played during suppression hearing

November 14, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Randy Houston McPeak
Randy Houston McPeak

WASHINGTON COUNTY — A West Virginia man charged with first-degree murder in the June 10 fatal shooting of a Hagerstown woman initially told police that ex-girlfriend Heather Harris shot herself twice in the head, according to a videotaped statement played Monday during a suppression hearing in Washington County Circuit Court.

“I’m coming down the hallway and I hear this bang,” Randy Houston McPeak, 44, of 346 Homestead Lane, Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said in a taped interview with Washington County Sheriff’s Detective Greg Alton. McPeak then told Alton that Harris tried to stand up, picked up the gun she had dropped after the first shot “and she puts it to her head ... and it went off.”

Defense attorney D. Benson Thompson III is seeking to keep statements McPeak made to deputies and a detective from being used in his trial, which is to begin Dec. 6. Thompson is also asking that items seized in a search of McPeak’s car not be allowed into evidence.

Harris, 37, died five days after being shot in her home at 1606 Dual Highway. McPeak called her cellphone at least 15 times that day and sent eight text messages, with Harris replying three times, according to the bill of particulars filed by the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Shortly before noon on June 10, McPeak, who earlier left his workplace at the Washington County Department of Water Quality, called a friend telling her, “I did it, I did it, she’s dead,” according to charging documents.

That woman eventually went to Harris’ home, spoke briefly with McPeak and called 911, charging documents said. That initial call was made at 2:48 p.m., Detective Casey Barnes testified.

The county’s Special Response Team was able to get Harris out of the house at 7:30 p.m., and McPeak surrendered at 10:01 p.m., Barnes testified.

McPeak parked his work vehicle at a restaurant down the street from Harris’ home, leaving his personal vehicle, a Volkswagen Jetta, at the department office near Williamsport, court documents said. The car was towed to the sheriff’s office impound lot June 10 and was searched June 22 after Barnes obtained a search warrant, she testified.

Court documents show a .380-caliber handgun was found in his car and Barnes testified Monday that .25-caliber ammunition and a holster were also found in the Jetta. The gun found at Harris’ house after McPeak surrendered was a .25-caliber Beretta, she testified.

Thompson said during his cross-examination of Barnes that McPeak has “steadfastly denied” taking a gun to Harris’ home on June 10.

Deputy 1st Class Josh McCauley, who acted as the crisis negotiator during the standoff, testified he was in contact with McPeak by telephone during the standoff. McPeak at first told him Harris was not injured but did not want to speak with authorities, he testified.

Once outside the residence, McPeak told him “Heather Harris committed suicide in front of him,” McCauley testified.

Once in custody, McPeak was taken to the sheriff’s office by Deputy 1st Class Jay Mills, who testified that he turned on a television camera in the patrol car that was facing toward the back seat. While being driven to the sheriff’s office, McPeak could be heard talking about Harris shooting herself.

Alton conducted the hourlong interview at the sheriff’s office. It was played before Circuit Judge John H. McDowell on a laptop computer at the bench, and the interview could not be heard from the gallery until Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael connected a pair of remote speakers.

Alton could be heard telling McPeak that he did not believe Harris shot herself because of the nature of her injuries. McPeak’s responses could not be heard, and Thompson and Michael declined to answer questions about the statement after the hearing adjourned for the day.

Thompson, who noted during the hearing that police fired twice at McPeak during the standoff, questioned witnesses about possible inducements, promises or threats made to gain McPeak’s cooperation, whether he had been formally charged at the time of the interview and whether all of McPeak’s legal options had been explained to him.

The witnesses testified there had not been inducements, promises or threats, and Alton testified McPeak was in custody, but formal charges had not been filed at the time of the interview.

The statement of probable cause filed June 11 stated that “McPeak admitted he shot Harris twice. McPeak stated after that he shot Harris the first time, she fell to the floor. McPeak stated Harris was lying on the floor when he fired the second shot into the back of her head. McPeak stated he fired the second shot because Harris ‘was suffering.’”

Harris was shot once in the left temple with the bullet exiting her right cheek and once in the back of her head, the charging document said.

Michael said the state concluded presenting its evidence Monday. McDowell adjourned the hearing and asked Michael and Thompson to schedule a date to conclude the hearing.

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