By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Three criminal cases were presided over by the Honorable Judge James Courrier in Tucker County Circuit Court. Defendants included well known cases in the area including that of Emily Heckler, Frederick Herz, and Lester Mook.
Heckler was in the court room first with her defense attorneys Jeremy Cooper and Brent Easton. A defense obtained mental health expert Dr. Robert Rush testified regarding the defendant’s mental capacity and competency. Initially, Dr. Cody for the defense and Beverly Branson for the court both agreed that Heckler was competent to stand trial and criminally responsible for her actions. Since then, Cody changed his interpretation of his evaluation stating Heckler may have had diminished capacity and was unable to adequately consent to a waiver of her Miranda Rights. Rush testified after examining both Cody and Branson’s reports and interviewed Heckler as well as family members. His finding were that Heckler does have diminished capacity and was not competent to give a statement to law enforcement due to being in a disorganized mental state.
Prosecuting Attorney Ray LaMora explained that surveys were done via the internet and by phone by an organization regarding the public’s knowledge and feelings relating to the charges brought against Heckler. The defense had motioned to relocate the trial due to fear of not finding a non-biased jury within Tucker County. This company was sought out by the defense; therefore, the prosecution investigated the company. “I think it was a pretty good study,” proclaimed LaMora. His research revealed that very rarely does their outcomes result in relocation of the trials. At the conclusion of the survey, it was discovered that 46% of the participating audience knew one or more of those involved and of those familiar percentage, 99% already claimed Heckler to be guilty. It was due to these results that Judge Courrier granted the motion to relocate the trial to Mineral County, which Judge Courrier will remain judge over and LaMora the prosecution. The trial is still scheduled for April 22 through the 24. All hearings leading up to the trial will remain in Tucker County.
Defendant Frederick Herz appeared on five counts of fraudulent schemes, which are felonies. Herz’s defense attorney, James Hawkins, made a motion to dismiss LaMora as prosecutor making complaints regarding his ethics. LaMora objected to the motion, stating, “Tucker County citizens have the right to have Tucker County Prosecutors prosecute their cases.” Judge Courrier did not believe the accusations made against LaMora, however, due to the length of the case and that has already been relocated to Mineral County, Judge Courrier obliged the motion and will be assigning a special prosecutor likely from Mineral County to take over the case and move forward.
The case of Lester Mook took the court room with Pat Nichols serving as defense attorney. Nichols made another motion to dismiss the case. This appearance also served as a suppression hearing regarding the search of the side by side. Sergeant C.D. Siler and former WVSP Trooper J.E. Kopec both testified in reference to executing the search warrants, which there has been no ruling on yet. “Both search warrants were valid,” declared LaMora. He referenced a case law from the U.S. Supreme Court labeled as United States v. Leon, which is as follows: “On August 1981, police in Burbank, California received a tip identifying Patsy Stewart and Armando Sanchez as drug dealers. Police began surveillance of their homes and followed leads based on the cars that frequented the residences. The police identified Ricardo Del Castillo and Alberto Leon as also being involved in the operation. Based on this surveillance and information from a second informant, a detective wrote an affidavit and a judge issued a search warrant. The police conducted the search, but the search warrant was later found to be invalid because the police lacked the probable cause for a warrant to be issued in the first place. The evidence obtained in the search was upheld anyway, because the police performed the search in reliance on the warrant, meaning they acted in good faith. This became known as the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule.”
LaMora feels the prosecution has the best argument and that, “It fits the exclusionary rule.” Nichols argued that law enforcement did not have the right to obtain the vehicle identification number (VIN), though LaMora replied it was out in the open and anyone walking to the front door could have easily seen the VIN on the tongue. Judge Courrier gave the attorneys another chance to brief the court before Judge Courrier moves forward with the case on April 9.
Upcoming Circuit Court dates include March 10 for sentencing of Steven Swiger, charged with one count of fleeing from an officer with reckless indifference, one count for driving on a revoked license for a prior DUI, one count of reckless driving, and one count of receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle, and Charles Wolfe on charges of burglary, kidnapping, strangulation, third degree domestic battery, and attempted murder. March 12 hearings consist of William Ball Jr., Trevor Roy, Charles McCrum, Kenneth Smith, Taylor Dilley, Tracey Elza, Josh Swisher, and Tammy Wratchford.