Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 1, 2014

Click trial: State ready to rest

WELCH — Jerry Roncella, the sister of the late Mayor Thomas Clark Hatcher testified on Friday that she “begged” her brother to move his son and daughter-in-law John and Rebecca Hatcher, out of his home because they were taking his money, but he let them stay because he didn’t think he would be able to take care of his grandson, Jonathan, by himself.

“He never had any money,” Roncella testified during direct examination by McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Kornish on the third day of the trial of Earl Click, 28, of Grundy, Va., on first-degree murder charges stemming from Hatcher’s death on July 17, 2012. “I was astounded when I started going through his expenses. Every day was another check written out to Becky.”

Roncella testified that her brother was non-confrontational. She said that rather than get into an argument, he would write a letter. “He wrote letters to everyone. He never confronted anyone. His way of handling a contentious situation was to write a letter. I think he had just reached his breaking point.”

Roncella testified about the background of how her brother came to that point. She testified that Hatcher’s son, John, “was heavily involved with drugs,” and after putting him in rehabilitation programs several times, in 2011, he refused to cover for him again, and had him prosecuted. “At the last minute, Tom tried to back out,” she testified, but it was too late and John Hatcher was sent to the penitentiary.

She testified that she knew of at last three times when Mayor Hatcher’s son and daughter-in-law took money from him. She testified he told her, “They’re draining me dry,” and when she asked who “they” referred to he told her: “Becky and John.”

Mayor Hatcher did not sign his will, and as a result, Roncella became executrix of his estate. In that position, she was able to see the financial transactions that attracted his attention on July 16, 2012, and prompted him to visit Jerome Rasi. owner of Momma Lina’s Video Lottery casino in War to explain how several charges appeared on his, Hatcher’s, debit card.

“He said he really didn’t understand what the charges were,” Rasi testified on Friday. “I asked him if somebody had his debit card and he said no. I asked him if somebody had his pin number,” Rasi testified. “He was just wanting an explanation of his bank statement.”

Prior to Rasi taking the witness stand, Danielle Cable, who works at the Hillbilly Market in War, testified that Mayor Hatcher visited her store in the mid-afternoon on July 16, 2012, the day before his death, and asked her about the charges. “He told me he figured that Becky had the card,” she testified.

During her testimony, Roncella told the jury that in her capacity as executrix of her brother’s estate she examined his bank statements. When she questioned a $305 debit from his bank account made to Westlake, she couldn’t get an answer to her question. She asked Mike Spradlin to get a subpoena to determine what the payment was for, and learned that it was a vehicle payment made for Tammy Shortridge, Rebecca Click’s mother.

Outside the presence of the jury, Ronald Hassan, Click’s defense counsel, asked McDowell County Circuit Court Judge Booker T. Stephens that since the prosecution has been presenting evidence about his client’s sister for three days, “we have a right to tell the jury that she was tried and found not guilty.”

Stephens reminded Hassan that the parties had argued the point before court, and said that they jointly decided to strike Rebecca Hatcher’s name from the indictment that he read to the jury. When the court reminded Hassan that he agreed to that approach, Hassan said that he didn’t object.

“Very well. You didn’t object to it,” Stephens said. He said the court would study case law on the issue and rule before the defense starts presenting its case, most likely on Monday. “Quite frankly, it’s just something I haven’t looked at. I just want time,” Stephens said.

Hassan and Roncella both contributed to a spirited cross examination. Hassan showed Roncella more than $50,000 in tax liens against Mayor Hatcher’s estate. “Tom owed a lot of money for taxes,” she testified. “He handled his money. He just didn’t handle his taxes.

Hassan asked if Roncella had hired an expert to support her contention that one check had a forged signature. He said that with all of the statements she made in her testimony, “Has Becky been charged?”

“No she has not,” Roncella responded. Under re-direct by Kornish, Roncella testified: “That is the major problem. Tom died before she could be prosecuted.”

The state called Detective Ron Blevins of the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department who testified on how his investigation led to Earl Click. He said that the scratches on Hatcher’s face and a plastic Belk bag near his body caused him to find the death suspicious.

Blevins testified that he interviewed Roy Darnell “Uncle Donnie” Harding in Grundy, Va., who mentioned that Hatcher had been smothered with cellophane. “Nobody else knew that,” Blevins testified. He testified that investigators were not releasing any information about their theory that Hatcher had been smothered.

Blevins testified that after Buchanan County, Va., authorities arrested Click, “we were made aware that there was a site outside the town of Grundy,” where items had been burned. “Myself and Deputy (Mark) Shelton went to the site, photographed the area and recovered large pieces of debris and a bungee type cord.”

Under cross examination, Blevins testified about the 30-count indictment that named John Hatcher, the fact that he only took six photographs of Mayor Hatcher’s bedroom, and why he thought money was taken. Blevins testified that Hatcher’s “money clip was taken,” and added that it has not been found.

Stephens told jurors to return to court at 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Hassan told the court the defense will take two days, and said that the defendant will testify.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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