Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 15, 2013

Son charged in slayings

TAZEWELL, Va. — The investigation into a double homicide of a Tazewell County husband and wife that had hanged like “a dark cloud” over the community for nearly four years, took a dramatic turn Thursday with the arrest of the slain couple’s only son on two counts of capital murder.

Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt announced at a press conference that Christopher Dean Looney, the son of the late Valerie and Harvey Looney, had been arrested Wednesday afternoon and was arraigned in Tazewell County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Thursday morning prior to the 10 a.m. press conference.

The bodies of Valerie Looney, 48, and her husband of almost 29 years, Harvey Looney, 52, were discovered on the morning of March 30, 2009, by an employee who was coming to work at the Pizza Plus restaurant in Claypool Hill, Va. The Looneys managed the pizza restaurant. Valerie’s body was found in the office and Harvey’s body was found near a door outside the store.

Former Tazewell County Sheriff H.S. Caudill did not release any additional details about the homicides on the day the bodies were discovered, but Hieatt said both during and after the press conference that the investigation has continued since the bodies were discovered.

“We have stayed on this investigation continuously,” Hieatt said. “We have worked with other agencies and have had several different officers and deputies with this department who worked on the investigation. We have stayed with this investigation.”

Hieatt said during “the past several months,” his department revisited the evidence in the case. “We took some of the evidence back to the FBI lab for them to take another look at,” Hieatt said. “That was helpful to the investigation.”

Tazewell deputies brought Christopher Looney, 32, of Belfast, Va., in for questioning Wednesday. He said the interview began at about noon and culminated at about 5 p.m., with the arrest.

Commonwealth Attorney Dennis Lee also spoke at the press conference. “This crime has been a dark cloud over this community for almost four years,” Lee said. He said that the department has “devoted thousands of hours” to the investigation, and added that the evidence is solid. “We feel confident in this case,” Lee said.

Lee added that since it is a capital murder case, “there is a possibility of the death penalty.”

Lee expressed the county’s thanks to all the agencies that assisted with the investigation and extended his thanks to the people of Tazewell County. “Tazewell County is a resilient community,” Lee said.

Prior to the start of the press conference, Major Harold Heatley, chief deputy, said in addition to Hieatt and Lee, others who might be mentioned in the story included Tazewell County Sheriff’s Captain of Detectives Neil Turley, Tazewell County investigator Mike Hall and Virginia State Police Senior Special Agent John Santolla.

A few persons who were not with the press also attended the press conference, but left without commenting. Daniel Morrison, owner of the Blountville, Tenn.,-based Pizza Plus, stood in the back of the room, and politely answered questions from the press.

He acknowledged that there was no reason to celebrate on Thursday, but said: “I think it will bring some closure to the family and friends (of Harvey and Valerie Looney) and to the Pizza Plus family,” he said in what was obviously an emotional moment for him. “Today is a day to bring closure, but it is still a tragedy here.”

On April 6, 2009, a week after the murders, Morrison opened the doors of the Claypool Hill Pizza Plus for a community healing service. The service was held in advance of the restaurant being closed following the murders. A crowd of about 175 people attended the service at the restaurant.

“Although there has been speculation of our commitment to bring this case to a resolution, we have with unswerving devotion to duty, spent countless hours and resources to ensure we present a solid and factual case to the justice system,” Hieatt was quoted as stating in a press release distributed at the press conference. “My staff has worked tirelessly to bring about this resolution. Our combined efforts along with the Virginia State Police and other agencies have led to this arrest.”

Almost no details of the investigation were released, but Lee said that more information will be forthcoming at the time of Looney’s preliminary hearing which is tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m., on March 21. Lee said since the defendant has asked for a court-appointed attorney, the date for the preliminary hearing may change. However, he said that it will likely be held within the next 90 days.

Looney is currently being held without bond at the Southwest Regional Jail in Tazewell.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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