By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
After nearly two hours securing what both parties felt to be a qualified jury of 12, Circuit Court Clerk Sharon Moats swore them in for the trial of Deanna Waybright, being charged with two counts of uttering, which is a felony charge. The Honorable Judge James Courrier offered some pre-trial instructions for the jurors before the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney gave an opening statement.
Bush told the jury what they will find at the conclusion is that on January 22 and again on 23, 2020, the defendant Deanna Waybright went to Jim’s All-Star and passed a forged check from Stockmans Bank under the closed account from Kisners Pit Stop. He foretold who the State will be calling to the stand to testify on matters pertaining to the case. “I want to clarify something so that you know what the case is about,” said Bush. “We’re not alleging that Deanna Waybright forged the checks, we are alleging that she passed the checks, and will ask at the end to find her guilty of two counts of uttering,” he concluded.
Defense Attorney and representative of Waybright, Hillary Bright, gave her opening statement to the jury as well. She began by defining memory and how it works, stating that the case is based solely on the memory of one person on an incident that took place approximately two weeks after the incident, and it was not based on any physical evidence such as fingerprints. Bright continued that an individual went into Jim’s All-Star on January 22 and January 23 and presented a $120 check and $80 from the same bank account and was not deemed as suspicious. It wasn’t until two weeks later that a report was filed with Magistrate Court. She said Jim Propst identified her client within those two weeks, stating, “So then it becomes a question of memory and the recollection of what happened.”
Bright added that the jury would hear testimony from other individuals stating that Waybright was not in the area at the time of the incidents. She suggested that at the end of the trial and all evidence is presented, that Waybright be found not guilty, “Because memory is simply not reliable enough to convict her of these two crimes.”
The first witness called by the State was James Propst, brought in by Tucker County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy M.J. Sigley. He took the stand and was sworn in by Circuit Court Clerk Sharon Moats. Propst has been managing Jim’s All-Star for 40 years, including the dates in question. Bush and Propst confirmed the location of the store and asked Propst if he had an encounter with Waybright on the dates in question, to which Propst confirmed he did. Bush asked Propst to identify Waybright, which he did by pointing, and he stated he has known her since before the incidents along with her family and estimates seeing her once a week.
Propst stated that on January 22, “She (Waybright) came in with one of the Boyle’s,” parking at the gas pumps, came in to purchase cigarettes, pop, groceries, and gas, and Waybright then handed him a check. Bush referred to evidence labeled State Exhibit 1, and asked Propst to identify the documents which he recognized as the check that the store received back from the bank. He was asked by Bush to read the signature line, to which Propst responded, “T something.” Attached to the check was a letter from the bank stating that the account was invalid.
It was noted that the amount the check was made out for was more than that of the bill, and change was given. Bush asked Propst to read the establishment name and the other information on the check, which included a driver’s license and phone number. He stated that all of the information, including the signature, was filled before Waybright entering the store, and confirmed he did not witness her filling out any portion of the check. “Are you sure that it was Deanna (Waybright) that presented the check to you?” asked Bush. “Yes, it was,” he responded.
States Exhibit 2 evidence was the second check, dated for January 23 in the amount of $80, along with the note from the bank. The information on the second check matched that of the first. Bush asked if Propst recollected the second check being presented, which he stated he did, and that the amount the check was made out for warranted the return of change. Once the checks were returned as insufficient, Propst went to the Tucker County Magistrate, which he claims is his standard practice, to begin the report.
The Defense took the opportunity to cross-examine Propst, and began by stating the report was filed against Kisner’s Pit Stop and asked how the accusations trickled down to her client. Propst couldn’t recall if he used Waybright’s name on the report, then Bright handed him a copy that did not list any individual names. Bright asked if Propst gave a statement to the police, and he could not recall. Bright asked how Propst could recall that Waybright gave him the check, but couldn’t remember giving a statement to law enforcement.
Bright then turned her attention to the individual that was allegedly accompanying Waybright in the convenience store on those dates. Propst said he knew it was “one of the Boyle’s,” but he didn’t know which one. He admitted that the check raised concern for him as he was under the impression Waybright was unemployed. Bright asked if the report was in Propst’s handwriting, which he denied and thought the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filled out the report for him, but confirmed it was his signature.
“Was it possible that Mr. Boyles gave you the check?” Bright asked. “No,” Propst quickly responded. When Bright asked why, he responded, “Because I’ve never seen a Boyles have a check,” adding they always pay in cash, “That would have caught my attention.” Propst said he knew the incident was suspicious but claimed he couldn’t do anything at the time.
Bright asked if the business had video surveillance, which Propst confirmed they do, however, the recording is on a seven-day loop and after the seventh day, the data is overwritten and recorded over. According to Propst, the recording had been obsolete before he was made aware of the checks being rejected. Bright asked if Propst recalled a subpoena being issued to retrieve the recording, which he said he remembered.
Moving forward, Bright asked if Propst had any health conditions. He said he suffered from a hernia, stomach, and liver issues. Bright asked if he frequently consumes alcohol, to which he responded, “No I do not,” and added he hasn’t in nine to 10 years.
When asked how many customers come through Jim’s All-Star on a typical day, even though an official count has not been done, Propst said they average 175 debit card transactions per day before adding payments received by other forms of payment. He admitted he does not remember every customer but does remember Waybright coming in because it was after 6 p.m. when he is the only staff member on duty, and they were the only ones in the store. He said he reviewed the check which was filled out properly, but knew she wasn’t Trina Kisner, though couldn’t do anything about it at the time. Bright asked if he asks all customers to give a phone number or driver’s license number when paying by check. “No, it’s a small town, I know where to find them,” he responded.
Bush noted a typographical error on the report that was listed as February 7, 2019, which should have read 2020, about 15 to 16 days after the checks were written. Referring to the second question on the report, Bush asked Propst who handed you the checks. “She did,” he replied. After discussing how Propst knew the defendant and Boyle’s, Bush asked, “Are you mistaking who gave you the checks on January 22 and 23?” “No, I am not,” said Propst.
Bright referred again to Propst’s psoriasis of the liver and asked if he ever experiences drowsiness, confusion, or memory loss. Propst admitted he gets tired, but it’s because he works seven days a week. With no further questions from the State or Defense, Propst was excused from the stand.
The State then called Sherry Bonner, Assistant Branch Manager of the Grant County Bank in Harman for 21 years. She explained that GCB bought out Stockman’s Bank, the financial institution on the checks in question, in 2000. She said that any accounts through Stockman’s were giving six months to transition their accounts to GCB or another bank of their choice before those accounts were closed. Bonner was handed both of the State Exhibits and she explained the documents. She said no records were kept from Stockman’s and she doesn’t even recall Kisner’s being in operation when she began working at GCB. She was unsure which bank the checks were sent to considering Stockman’s is no longer in service, therefore she assumed they were sent to and returned by the Federal reserve since the routing number was associated with a non-existent bank.
Bright asked Bonner if any forensics were completed on the checks to collect fingerprints. Bonner wasn’t aware of any and also confirmed she does not know the defendant.
Trina Kisner, former co-owner of Kisner’s Pit Stop in Harman, took the witness stand and informed the Court that she and her late husband opened the store in 1994 and it was shut down between the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000. She confirmed they had an account with Stockman’s Bank for the business, but closed it when they closed the store over 20 years ago.
Kisner was given a copy of the checks used at Jim’s All-Star and was asked if she recognized it. She stated the business and bank information were the same, but the size of the check was incorrect. “Is that your signature?” asked Bush. “No, not even close, no sir,” she responded. Bush asked what happened to the checkbook from the Pit Stop once the store closed. Kisner said that all documents were destroyed after they were retained for the required amount of time, but she was unsure if that included the checks. She assured that she did not give out any checks nor did she make out a check to Jim’s All-Star. “No, I don’t even know what that is,” she said. She was asked if she knew the defendant, which she denied, adding she didn’t even recognize the name and even if she did, would not have given her a check or anyone else.
When the defense took the floor, Kisner told Bright she knew Kisners Pit Stop checks were circulating around Randolph County and as soon as she found out, she reported it to the W.Va. State Police. One individual was caught and is in the court process for the charge, and she knew of over a dozen other individuals who were supposedly indicted in another county for using the checks as well. With no further questions,she was excused.
The State rested with no further witnesses and a recess was taken for lunch.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the Defense called its only witness, Norma Louise Pritt from Montrose, the mother of Waybright. When questioned, Pritt recalled she was home on January 23, 2020, with her daughter, the defendant, and her granddaughter. She claimed that the three cleaned the house and moved furniture that day. Pritt said Waybright arrived at her house late the night of January 22 and did not leave until late on the night of January 23. She said she recalls the dates because while moving furniture, a beloved vase was accidentally broken.
Bush asked Pritt if she was employed during the timeframe in question, which she stated
She was not. He asked how she recollected the specific time Waybright left her home the evening of the 23. She responded that she remembered asking her to stay the night with her since it was so late, but she didn’t, she assumed she and her granddaughter went home. Pritt was then excused from the stand.
No other witnesses were called and none were needed for recall. Judge Courrier, Bush, Bright, and Waybright retreated into the Judge’s Quarters for a brief discussion away from the jury. Upon return, Judge Courrier gave the jury their instructions before releasing them for deliberation. He reiterated they must come to a verdict beyond a reasonable doubt. “If any reasonable doubt, you should find Ms. Waybright not guilty,” he said.
Bush took the floor for his closing argument, referring back to Propst’s testimony and recapping the alleged incident. He brought back Bonner’s statements about the closing of Stockman’s Bank and Kisner stating she did not sign the check nor issued any to the defendant. “That there is beyond a reasonable doubt,” Bush assured. As for the defense’s argument of relying on memory, Bush stated it was only about two weeks from the time of the incident until the report and that Propst was able to properly identify Waybright because he knew her. He stated again that Waybright is not accused of forging, just passing the forged checks. “How could she not know?” he concluded.
Bright’s opportunity to leave a last impression on behalf of her client followed, saying there was no dispute that the checks were faulty, but what is to be disputed was who actually gave the check to Propst and it was merely assumed Waybright knew they were forged, not fact. She suggested that the State did not prove probable cause, that the only argument they (Bush) had was the testimony of Propst who couldn’t recall a lot of information. “There is no fingerprints, no video surveillance, it is solely on the memory of Propst,” Bright added.
She referred to Pritt’s testimony stating that Waybright was with her all day. “It is up to you to decide who you believe, whose testimony is more reliable,” Bright stated. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the State has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” she added, and asked that they find Waybright not guilty.
As per law, Bush being the prosecutor in the case had the opportunity to make a final remark. “We’re relying more than on Mr. Propst’s memory, we’re relying on his written statement, made about two weeks later,” he said. He read a portion of the written report, which read, “They (Waybright and Boyles) did this twice, a couple days apart.” Referring back to the testimony of Pritt, Bush said, “If anyone is biased, it’s going to be the defendant’s mother.” “Deanna Waybright has no connection to Kisner’s, no reason, no evidence that Ms. Kisner gave a check to Waybright,” he concluded.
The sixth and final stage of trial had come, the jury deliberation. They entered into sequestered conversation at 2:05 p.m. before informing the bailiff, Chief Deputy M.J. Sigley, they had reached a verdict at 3:25 p.m. Those in attendance entered back into the courtroom and Judge Courrier announced that the jury was unable to agree upon a verdict. He again asked that the courtroom be vacated to allow more time for the jury to discuss in the instance someone may change their mind.
Returning again at 3:55 p.m., Judge Courrier announced that the jury has reached a verdict. “On count one, we the jury unanimously find the defendant guilty of uttering, and on count two, we find the defendant guilty,” the Judge read. He confirmed that the verdict he was read as correct, which it was. The jury was then excused from their duties.
Bush recommended the defendant be taken into custody by the TCSO and recommended a pre-sentencing investigation. Bright objected as her client is out on bond and asked that she remain as such. Judge Courrier ruled that Waybright can stay out on bond since the convictions were non-violent until they return on May 19 at 11:15 a.m. for sentencing. The potential sentence for the felonies is one to ten years per count.
Bright motioned for acquittal of the case once more and made references to support her motion. Judge Courrier stated he would take that into consideration for the next hearing.