Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

December 1, 2012

Little case: Venue scrutinized

PRINCETON — Whether a murder trial will remain in Mercer County and whether the county prosecutor will handle the case was considered Friday during a status hearing for a suspect in the stabbing death of a Princeton resident.

Gerald W. Little, 60, of Princeton, has been indicted on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and burglary in the case of Jerry Buckner, who was found stabbed to death on March 1 at his Honaker Avenue home in Princeton. According to an autopsy report, Buckner died from more than 30 stab wounds to his neck and throat.

Little pleaded not guilty on Oct. 22 to all the charges. He faces the possibility of life in prison.

The senior status judge assigned to the case, John S. Hrko, heard motions Friday in Mercer County Circuit Court calling for the trial’s venue to be changed, to remove Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash from the case, and a psychiatric evaluation for Little.

Attorney Derrick Lefler, who is representing Little, said that relatives of Jerry Buckner work both in the Mercer County Circuit Clerk’s Office and the prosecutor’s office. Hrko said that Ash has frequent contact with these relatives, and that these relatives would have contact with potential jurors.

Jerry Buckner was the brother of former sheriff and magistrate Harold Buckner.

Hrko said that while he did not question the integrity of Ash and other people working in the Mercer County court system, there was the possibility of an “appearance of impropriety” that could be considered by the state supreme court if a conviction was appealed.

Ash said that given the nature of the crime and Little’s record, “any other reasonable prosecutor would be seeking the same charges.”

“We try to run a very clean, open office, and I don’t feel we would be tempted in any way to take shortcuts,” Ash said, adding that Little was represented by experienced attorneys.

Hrko granted the motion for Little to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. On the motion to take Ash off the case, Hrko said he would give Ash a decision by Dec. 10. A hearing about the motion for a change of venue was scheduled for Dec. 18. Little’s trial date is currently set for Jan. 22, 2013.

Seeing members of a victim’s family with jobs in the local court system was a new situation, Hrko said.

“I’ve been on the bench for 30 years, and I’ve never seen one like this,” he said of the case.

In a separate case, Little was indicted on a charge of failure to register as a sex offender. Little was convicted on July 24, 2007 in Raleigh County on a charge of sexual abuse. Little had failed to report that he had dropped out of a trucking school that he was attending. He has pleaded not guilty to that charge.

Little is being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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