CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued 75 short, or memorandum, decisions this week. Included in those, were decisions on four high-profile criminal cases from Harrison, Marion and Taylor counties, some spanning back decades.
William Clyde Jeffries – Murder
Once case involves William Clyde Jeffries, who, after a 38-year investigation, was convicted, in 2020, of killing 7-year-old Conrad Roger “C.R.” Diaz, in 1981. Lawyers for Jeffries appealed his conviction on the basis that investigators got statements from Jeffries, prior to charging him with the boy’s murder, that helped lead to his conviction. Jeffries’ lawyers’ argument was that because Jeffries is “of lowering intellectual functioning,” he did not understand that he did not have to talk to the investigators. With that in mind, Jeffries attorneys asked the Harrison County Circuit Court judge to suppress those statements at his trial.
The Supreme Court justices found “no clear error in the circuit court’s finding that Mr. Jeffries statement was voluntarily given.” You can read the full opinion here.
Jeffries is serving his sentence in the Saint Marys Correctional Center. His next parole hearing is set for February 2023, with his projected release date listed as February 2027.
Adam Bowers – Sex Assault & Burglary
Another appeal, also related to a Harrison County “cold case,” was also heard by the Supreme Court. This appeal was brought by a lawyer for Adam Bowers, in relation to a 2001 sexual assault and burglary case, in which the victim was an 83-year-old woman. Another man, Joseph Buffey, was originally convicted in the case and served nearly 15 years behind bars, before being released in 2016.
DNA evidence later pointed to Bowers, who was convicted in 2015. Bowers’ habeas corpus filing claims that he was denied the right to a fair trial, due to prosecutorial misconduct. Justices determined that none of the acts Bowers alleges amounted to prosecutorial misconduct, denying his appeal. The full opinion is available here. The Supreme Court also upheld Bowers’ conviction in a separate 2017 appeal.
Bowers is serving his sentence in the Mount Olive Correctional Center. His next parole hearing is currently set for 2043, with a projected release date in 2068.
John Hess – Murder
The appeal filed on behalf of John Hess, who was sentenced to life in prison, without mercy, in 2020, for the 2017 shooting death of his wife, in Taylor County, centered around the admissibility of photographs of his wife’s body during his trial.
Lawyers for Hess argued that the “ghastly” nature of the photographs prejudiced the jury against Hess and that the judge in the case should have granted their motion to suppress the photos.
The Supreme Court ruled that even if the photographs were inappropriate, there was overwhelming evidence of Hess’s guilt, including a video-taped confession, that would have led the jury to convict him anyway. You can read the full opinion here.
Hess is serving his life sentence, without parole, in the Mount Olive Correctional Center.
Brian Gatto – Sex Assault & Abuse
Attorneys for Brian Gatto appealed his 2020 Marion County Circuit Court sentence, on several sexual assault and sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or person in a position of trust to a child charges. Gatto’s lawyers claimed that his sentences were not applied correctly. The court found that Gatto’s sentences are not subject to its review, therefore affirming the circuit court’s ruling. The Supreme Court’s opinion can be found in its entirety here.
Gatto is serving his sentence in the Mount Olive Correctional Center, where he is not scheduled to go before the parole board until 2055. His projected release date is listed as 2083.