Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 3, 2014

Hurt’s conviction voided after review rules insufficient defense

BLUEFIELD — After reviewing the trial of a local man who was convicted for first-degree murder in the 1995 shooting death of a Bluefield gas station operator, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that his defense had been insufficient and ordered that his conviction be legally voided.

David Lee Hurt, no age available, of Bluefield was convicted by a Pocahontas County jury on May 29, 1998, for the shooting death of Freddie Lester, who was killed Aug. 21, 1995, at a gas station and convenience store then located on Bluefield Avenue. He had been shot at close range in the back of the head, according to court documents filed May 30.

At Hurt’s first trial, a Mercer County jury voted 10 to two to acquit him. As a result, a mistrial was declared and defense attorneys moved for a change of venue due to the publicity that the trial received. The case was later transferred to Pocahontas County, according to court documents.

One principle witness, a male subject who was a juvenile at the time, told investigators that Hurt had been present during the robbery, and then changed his story more than once, court officials stated.

The case was later appealed on the grounds that evidence demonstrating Hurt’s innocence, a telephone call to his girlfriend on the night of Lester’s murder, was not introduced. Other appeals listed defense errors made during Hurt’s second trial that his new attorneys said harmed his right to a fair trial.

In the justices’ opinion filed May 30, they stated that the defense failed to object when the venue was changed to Pocahontas County, which had a small African-American community. Hurt is African-American, so this meant no African-Americans would be on his jury. Defense counsel also failed to ask the all-white jury about possible membership in racist organizations such as the National Alliance, which was then based in Pocahontas County, according to court documents.

The justices also said Hurt’s defense counsel failed to object to the state’s “prejudicial characterization of Mr. Hurt as being a drug dealer, which assertion was not evidence.”

In their conclusion, the justices ruled that Hurt “was denied effective assistance of counsel in contradiction of his rights under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 3, section 14, of the West Virginia Constitution.” Based on these rulings, the justices vacated (voided) Hurt’s conviction.

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