By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Rebecca Lynn “Becky” Hatcher wiped away tears from her eyes Wednesday after a McDowell County jury found her not guilty of first-degree murder in connection with the death of her father-in-law and long-time War Mayor Dr. Thomas Hatcher.
The jurors deliberated for about nine hours over two days before coming back with the not guilty verdict. They were unable to reach a verdict on a second charge of conspiracy, forcing Circuit Court Judge Rudolph J. Murensky II to declare a mistrial on the conspiracy indictment count. Murensky set a new trial for Feb. 24, 2014, on the conspiracy charge.
Hatcher, who cried and covered her face after the verdict was read, attempted to make eye contact and smiled at several of the jurors as they were dismissed from the courtroom. As she was escorted from the courtroom annex and across Wyoming Street, Hatcher said “No sir, no comment,” after she was asked by reporters about the not guilty verdict.
Murensky set bond for Rebecca Hatcher at $10,000 on the remaining conspiracy charge. She was expected to bond out by the end of the day Wednesday, defense counsel Thomas Evans said. She will remain on the same bond until she is retried on the conspiracy charge next year.
Prosecuting Attorney Edward Kornish said the state intends to retry Hatcher on the conspiracy charge. Kornish said the state also intends to proceed with trial on Jan. 25 for Rebecca Hatcher’s brother, Earl J. Click, 27, of Grundy, Va., who is also charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy in connection with the death of Tom Hatcher.
The state argued that the two stole $1,100 from the mayor. Kornish alleged during trial that Rebecca Hatcher killed her father-in-law after he threatened to prosecute her for stealing from him. The state alleges the long-time War mayor was smothered to death with a paper bag.
“I respect the jury’s verdict,” Kornish said. “A jury deliberates in secret. We’ve got to respect their decision.”
Evans, who represented Rebecca Hatcher along with defense counsel Keith Flinchum, said the woman was very emotional following the verdict, but pleased with the juror’s decision. However, he said the defense was a little confused over why the jurors couldn’t come to a decision on the conspiracy charge.
“I think the abundance of circumstantial evidence was just not enough for this type of charge,” Evans said of the first-degree murder indictment. “There were a lot of opinions but the evidence was lacking to convict her on the first-degree murder (charge).”
The defense argued that the Hatchers simply had a family argument and the mayor’s death was due to natural causes. Evans said Rebecca Hatcher already has 17 months credit for time served in prison while awaiting trial. If she were to be convicted on a conspiracy charge, the maximum time she would face is five years minus the 17 months credit for time already served. Evans said he will represent Hatcher again if she is retried on the conspiracy charge. Evans said the woman is looking forward to returning home, and spending time with her child.
“She has been away from him going on about 17 months now,” Evans said. “She’s very excited to be able to go back to him.”
The jurors reached an initial decision on the first-degree murder verdict early Wednesday morning, but told the judge they were deadlocked 7-5 on the conspiracy count. Murensky didn’t release the initial verdict. The jurors were released for lunch at noon, and returned at 1:15 p.m. At about 1:30 p.m., they knocked on the door and indicated to a court bailiff that they were still deadlocked — this time by a vote of 10-2 — on the conspiracy charge.
Murensky repeatedly asked the jurors if they were certain they couldn’t come to an agreement on the conspiracy count. They agreed they couldn’t.
“I’m going to declare that a mistrial, which means we are going to try this count over again,” Murensky said of the conspiracy indictment charge.
“I think all of you have done a good job under difficult circumstances,” Murensky told the jurors. “You have listened closely, and have taken this very seriously.”
Tom Hatcher was found dead shortly before noon on July 17, 2012 by city of War employees who went to check on him when he didn’t appear for work. State witnesses had testified earlier in the week that Tom Hatcher had reached his tipping point with his daughter-in-law, who they argued had spent his money freely. Kornish argued that on the day before Tom Hatcher died, he obtained a printout of recent expenses from his bank account, and went to the places where Rebecca Hatcher had allegedly made purchases and ATM withdrawals. Kornish said Tom Hatcher threatened to prosecute his daughter-in-law. However, Evans argued that the only thing the state was able to prove was that the mayor had an argument with his daughter-in-law, and that the woman had made unauthorized withdrawals from her father-in-law’s account. Defense witnesses testified that Tom Hatcher died of natural causes, and wasn’t murdered.