Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

May 24, 2013

Atwell ‘just snapped’

Mercer County man pleads guilty to first-degree murder, abduction of a child by a family member

PRINCETON — After taking a moment to control himself and wiping back tears, a Mercer County man told a circuit court judge Thursday how he “just snapped” the day he strangled his wife.

Tracy Lee Atwell, 39, of Spanishburg, was arrested after the April 7, 2012 murder of his wife, 33-year-old Christine Atwell, and the abduction of his 8-year-old daughter, Porsche. The child was found safe after an extensive search by the West Virginia State Police, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies.

Atwell appeared Thursday for a plea hearing before Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder with recommendation of mercy, and abduction of a child by a family member. Under first-degree murder with mercy, Atwell could be eligible for parole in 15 years. There is no guarantee that parole would be granted. He also faces a term of one to five years on the abduction charge.

Under the plea agreement, two charges of first-degree robbery will be dropped if Swope decides to accept Atwell’s plea.

A hearing date was scheduled for June 10. At that time Swope will determine whether to accept the plea agreement, and if he accepts the plea, whether the terms will run consecutively or concurrently.

Swope asked Atwell several times whether he understood the plea agreement’s terms and the consequences of pleading guilty. At one point, the judge had Atwell leave the courtroom with his attorneys, Derrick Lefler and Paul Cassell, to make sure he still wanted the plea agreement. Atwell said five minutes later he still planned to plead guilty.

The only way to be discharged from a life sentence is to die in prison, Swope said. Receiving a recommendation of mercy would not end the possibility of spending life in prison even if parole was granted.

“If you get parole and you violate it, you have do go back the rest of your life,” the judge said.

“Yes, sir,” Atwell replied.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Janet Williamson said the state would have shown at trial that on April 7, 2012, Tracy Atwell choked Christina Atwell to death. A report by the West Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office stated that the cause of death was “homicide by asphyxia due to manual strangulation.”

Fighting back tears, Atwell admitted to murdering his wife.

“I don’t deny I killed Christina,” he said, adding he “just snapped” and killed her “in a fit of rage” during an argument.

Atwell denied he murdered his wife to obtain a Social Security check.

“He said he wasn’t happy about her relationships with other men and was concerned about his daughter,” Williamson said later.

Tracy and Christine Atwell were still married in April 2012, but living at separate residences, Williamson said. Steps had been taken to obtain a divorce, but Williamson did not know how far the process had proceeded.

A trial would also have shown how Atwell went to his parents’ home on April 11, 2012, confessed to killing Christina Atwell and told his father he wanted to turn himself in, but wanted to see his daughter because he knew he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison. But on April 12, he robbed his parents at gunpoint, tied them up, and took $100 before taking their Jeep and fleeing with his daughter, Williamson said. Christina Atwell’s body was later found at her home in Rock.

During the search, Atwell would cover the Jeep with tree branches whenever he heard a helicopter approach, Williamson said. Porsche pleaded to be taken home. Atwell was arrested at Nubbins Ridge.

Swope ordered a pre-sentencing investigation. After signing the necessary plea documents, Atwell was escorted in handcuffs and shackles from the courtroom. He is incarcerated at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

Text Only
Local News
  • Absentee voting lagging

    Absentee balloting is off to a slow start in a closely-watched Southwest Virginia Senate race that will determine which political party controls the General Assembly.  
    Three candidates are vying to succeed former lawmaker Phillip Puckett, who resigned in June. A special election is set for Aug. 19. The candidates are Republican A. Benton “Ben” Chafin Jr. Democrat D.M. “Mike” Hymes and independent Rick A. Mullins.

    July 25, 2014

  • Civil complaint filed against GM alleging defects caused local woman’s death

    The estate of a young Mercer County woman and her unborn child have filed a civil complaint in Mercer County Circuit Court alleging that a defective ignition switch in the woman’s 2005 Chevy Cobalt led to her death as well as the death of her unborn child.
    Keisha Dawn Vest, 26, of Princeton, the wife of Jason Vest, and mother of a (then) 3-year-old son, was driving to Mt. Airy, N.C., on May 2, 2006, when the brakes on her vehicle failed. Mrs. Vest was working in Mt. Airy as an MRI technician. Without brakes, Mrs. Vest lost control of her vehicle and entered an intersection into the path of a tractor-trailer. She died as a result of the injuries she received in the wreck.

    July 25, 2014

  • ‘Overwhelming:’ Area fans supporting Saints trip to West Virginia

    The community response to the New Orleans Saints’ three-week visit to The Greenbrier for training camp can be described best in one word that Greenbrier owner Jim Justice, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and Saints head coach Sean Payton all used Thursday when discussing the team’s first 24-plus hours in the Mountain State.
    “Overwhelming,” they all agreed.

    July 25, 2014

  • Police continue to search for suspects in local robberies

    Three robbery suspects remain at large in Mercer and Tazewell counties.

    July 25, 2014

  • Construction begins ... Ground broken on Tazewell County wastewater treatment plant

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Absentee balloting underway in closely watched 38th senatorial district contest

    July 24, 2014

  • Princeton man sues GM over wife’s crash death

    July 24, 2014

  • Press conference ... Son gets life for murders

     After pleading no contest in Tazewell County Circuit Court to charges of capitol murder-robbery, a Virginia man was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the murder of his own parents.

    July 24, 2014 3 Photos

  • Search continues for suspect impersonating a police officer

    The deputy who is leading the investigation into last weekend’s incident involving an individual who made a traffic stop while impersonating a police officer said she has stepped up the search, and hopes to have a sketch artist work with the victim to get a description.

    July 24, 2014

  • Three arrested ... Hit-and-run leads to foot pursuit and arrest of 3 men in Bluefield

    Three Mercer County men were arrested following a vehicular pursuit Wednesday that started when patrolmen with the Bluefield Police Department spotted a vehicle wanted in a hit and run entering the Bluefield State College campus, and ending with a foot pursuit.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

National and World
Newspaper Deivery Routes Available
Sister Newspapers' News
Local News Videos