By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD — Click here for video
Film crews with the Investigation Discovery channel visited the Bluefield Daily Telegraph offices Monday morning as part of the filming for the show “Sins & Secrets.”
The program will be covering the 2005 murder of Ebb Keister “Doc” Whitley in Iaeger and the subsequent trials of Charles Jason Lively and Tommy Owens.
Film crews interviewed Daily Telegraph Editor Samantha Perry and Assistant Managing Editor Charles Owens about the history and newspaper coverage of the crime and trials.
While cameras were rolling, it was oddly quiet in the Daily Telegraph newsroom with no sounds of ringing phones, police scanners or reporters typing at their desks. For once, reporters were the ones being interviewed as the show’s producer asked questions on everything from the history and background of McDowell County, the facts of the case, and a play-by-play of the crime, arrests of the subjects and the subsequent trials.
Michael Rogers, a producer with Jupiter Entertainment, said the Whitley case was chosen for the “Sins & Secrets” program because of its impact on McDowell County.
“The basis of the show are crimes that are very important to a community, that had a deep effect on that community,” Rogers said. “This case involves a man who was so important to not only Iaeger but McDowell County as a whole. It impacted people then, and it continues to be talked about. It’s a very interesting case.”
Rogers said Whitley’s status in McDowell County creates some of the interest in the case.
“From everything we’ve heard about ‘Doc’ Whitley he was an incredible man,” Rogers said. “He could have lived anywhere, but he chose to live in Iaeger. That fact that he chose Iaeger makes us interested in that city.”
The outcome was another intriguing facet of the case, Rogers said.
“There are two different verdicts in this case,” Rogers said. “We have two defendants and one was found guilty while the other was found not guilty. That doesn’t happen very often. Usually, either they are both found guilty or both found not guilty.”
Visual elements will play a big role in the final program, and Rogers said crews will spend the next several days in McDowell County, interviewing officials and law enforcement that handled the case as well as scenery and locations important to the story.
“We try to do the best we can to tell the story visually,” Rogers said. “We shoot B-roll of the scenery, interview people who dealt with the case, and we try to recreate scenes of the case. There are five acts to the show, and the fifth act is usually the trial. We might do re-enactment of the testimony if there isn’t video footage of the trials. We will be talking with Prosecuting Attorney Sid Bell, some of the investigators who worked the case and others. We usually try to interview between 10 and 12 people for each show. We try to get both sides of the story.”
Due to the nature of the program, Rogers said they often get mixed reactions from residents as well as those involved with a case when they go in to do their interviews.
“Sometimes, we go into a city and people want to put the past behind them; they don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “Sometimes, people still talk about the case and still want to know what happened.”
A well-known political figure in McDowell County, Whitley died as a result of smoke inhalation and thermal burns to more than 90 percent of his body from an arson fire at his home in Iaeger. At the time of his death, Whitley was wheelchair-bound and in a hospital bed on the second floor of his home, unable to escape.
Whitley worked as a physician for several years in the Iaeger area. Additionally, he served as a long-time chair of the McDowell County Democratic Party, as president of the McDowell County Commission, as a member of the McDowell County Board of Education, and in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Charles Jason Lively and Tommy Owens were both charged with first-degree murder and first-degree arson but only Lively was convicted. Lively’s trial was held in Putnam County after a judge granted a change of venue in the case. He was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree arson. Tommy Owens was tried in Wyoming County and was found not guilty on both charges.
The “Sins and Secrets” program featuring the “Doc” Whitley case might air on the Investigation Discovery channel as early as late August or early September.