Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

January 30, 2014

Earl Click trial begins

Jury hears case in second first-degree murder trial in death of War Mayor Hatcher

WELCH — At the beginning of his opening statement, Ronald Hassan, defense counsel for Earl Click, charged with first-degree murder, said that he has tried a lot of cases that were rather straightforward.

“This case is complicated,” Hassan said to the jury seated in McDowell County Circuit Court Judge Booker T. Stephens’ court. He said that with 150 exhibits by the state along with several state witnesses set to testify, the case is complex. However, Hassan attempted to simplify the case. “This is, in fact, a who done it,” he said.

The 12 jurors who made the final cut to hear the case had not heard the story of War Mayor Thomas Clark Hatcher’s death, but McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Edward Kornish has told the tale before. “On the morning of July 17, 2012, Tom Hatcher didn’t show up for work,” Kornish told the jurors at the start of his opening statement.

Kornish explained that Carolyn “Kitten” Cembella, the War town clerk asked a couple of town employees to check on the mayor, and after entering his home, they found Hatcher, “dead on his bed,” Kornish told the jurors. He told the jurors that Hatcher was “a little overweight” and had other health issues, but McDowell County Sheriff’s deputies Ron Blevins and Mark Shelton found enough evidence at the scene to make them suspicious. As a result, they had Hatcher’s body sent to the state medical examiner for an autopsy.

“The medical examiner determined it (the cause of Hatcher’s death) to be suffocation,” Kornish said in his opening statement. After addressing some of the factors that led to Earl Click’s arrest, Kornish said: “We don’t have physical evidence that puts Earl in that bedroom,” however, Kornish said that the state would present the testimony of Roy Darrell “Uncle Donnie” Harding, that would shed light on Earl Click’s activities on the day before Mayor Hatcher’s death.

“We will present evidence that after he and his sister (Rebecca (Click) Hatcher) killed the mayor, he burned the clothes and boots he was wearing,” Kornish told the jurors. Kornish said that Buchanan County, Va., Sheriff’s Deputy Billy Owens took McDowell deputies Shelton and Blevins to the burn site where they recovered materials.

“I would ask you to listen to all of the evidence,” and return a guilty verdict, Kornish asked the jurors.

During his presentation, Hassan said that he has two defenses. “Tom Hatcher was not murdered,” Hassan said, pointing out that Hatcher was overweight for his height, suffered from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder). “He had high blood pressure and diabetes,” Hassan said, and added that the arteries in his heart were blocked.

He said that Click’s second defense is an alibi. “Earl Click is not Houdini. He can’t be in two places at the same time,” Hassan said.

“Earl is no angel,” Hassan said. “He spent five years in prison. He got out just 27 days before Mayor Hatcher died,” he said. Hassan told the jurors that both Click, 28, of Grundy, Va., and his sister were 50-60 miles away from War when Hatcher died. “Before it’s all said and done, I think you’ll find that Earl had no means or method.”

After the jury was seated and before the opposing counsel presented their opening statements, Stephens explained why he denied a defense request to allow hearsay testimony from Tammy Shortridge — Rebecca Hatcher’s mother — and Earl Click that Harding had raped Rebecca Hatcher on the day before Mayor Hatcher’s death.

The state tried Rebecca Hatcher, 32, of War, on a first-degree murder charge in relation to the death of her father-in-law. After a four-day trial, a McDowell County jury found her not guilty after deliberating nine hours over two days.

The court ruled that since Rebecca Hatcher “is not available” to testify, neither her mother or brother could testify to 404-B evidence — evidence of prior bad acts — to discredit Harding’s testimony. The court also pointed out that the testimony didn’t meet the standards of 602 evidence, since witnesses did not have personal knowledge of the alleged bad acts. “It was never reported. It was never pursued. No one was arrested,” Stephens said. He added that testimony would be “misleading and confusing” to the jury.

Harding was the state’s first witness. He testified to his interactions with Rebecca Hatcher and Earl Click on the day before Mayor Hatcher’s death.

The trial will resume this morning. Stephens told jurors they needed to be available through Feb. 6, but Hassan predicted that the jury would most likely begin deliberations before that date.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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