Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

November 5, 2013

Hatcher takes the stand

WELCH — After offering up a pair of alibi witnesses on Friday, Rebecca Hatcher’s defense team took another turn in the Dr. Thomas Clark Hatcher murder trial by calling witnesses to provide evidence that the War mayor wasn’t murdered at all, but rather died of natural causes.

But that was only one of the significant turns that the trial took before the defense rested. The defendant testified on her own behalf, before the defense rested. However, on cross examination, McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Edward Kornish was able to use a prior statement that Rebecca Hatcher made to sheriff’s deputies to get her to acknowledge the statement she made to police.

Still, the prosecution’s biggest surprise came after the defense rested and Kornish called Russell White, who testified that at about 1:30 a.m., on July 17, 2012, he transported Earl Click from the Appalachian Inn to Looney’s Creek to meet Tammy Shortridge and another female who were waiting in Shortridge’s 1992 Chevy Trail Blazer. White testified that he also followed the Trail Blazer through Grundy, Va., up Slate Creek as far as Buchanan General Hospital, but watched as the Trail Blazer continued up Route 83 in the direction of West Virginia.

When the trial started on Monday, defense counsel Keith Flinchum called Jonathan Carolla, an EMT who was working with McDowell County Ambulance Authority at the time of Mayor Hatcher’s death and was the first paramedic on the scene. Carolla testified that upon assessing Mr. Hatcher, he reported, “no obvious signs of trauma noted.”

Flinchum called Dr. Waldro Barbero Bueafe, one of Mayor Hatcher’s physicians, who testified that he treated the mayor for skin conditions, and also testified that Hatcher had high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems. Under cross-examination by Kornish, Bueafe testified that he treated Mayor Hatcher for a scratch in December 2011. He testified that when Hatcher returned to the clinic in March 2012, he didn’t require additional attention. “It’s not noted here,” he testified.

Until the defendant testified, the prime witness for the defense was Dr. William Manion, a nationally known forensic pathologist who has had frequent appearances on the Nancy Grace and Anderson Cooper shows as well as “20/20,” CNN and other national television programs. Manion reviewed the autopsy reports prepared by Dr. Nabilla Haikal, that determined that Mayor Hatcher had been a victim of foul play, and came to a different conclusion.

“I believe the cause of death was natural,” Manion testified, pointing out that Mayor Hatcher suffered from 95 percent blockage in his left anterior descending artery, along with other significant blockages. “If I would have done his autopsy, I would have said he died of a heart attack,” he testified. “He’s a sick man. He’s got a lousy heart.

“To me, I don’t believe this is a homicide,” Manion testified under direct examination by Flinchum. He testified that there was nothing found under Mayor Hatcher’s fingernails that would indicate that he put up a fight. “Dr. Haikal has taken every bump and bruise to say it’s a homicide.”

Kornish cross-examined Manion on several of the major cases he had either testified in or commented on for television shows. “He was a walking heart attack,” Manion testified about Mayor Hatcher.

Kornish pressed Manion to respond to questions about asphyxia, strangulation and smothering. He testified that it would take 60 to 90 seconds for an individual to be rendered unconscious if smothered. Manion also agreed that for an older person in poor health, it could take 45-60 seconds. Still, he testified that if Mayor Hatcher was being smothered “our natural instinct for fight or flight” would come out and he did not find any signs like that.

Under re-direct by Flinchum, Manion testified that Mayor Hatcher had likely been dead at least 11 or 12 hours before paramedics arrived at Hatcher’s home at 11:46 a.m. on July 17, 2012. He based his opinion on the fact that paramedics reported that he was already cold, and reported that livormortise had set in.

“First, I believe it was a natural death,” Manion testified. “There’s no demonstrable evidence to think this is a homicide. It is what it is.”

Jimmy Shortridge testified that Rebecca Hatcher stayed at his residence on the night of July 16, 2012, and added that she hadn’t left the residence “to my knowledge,” he testified. Two juveniles — one 13 and the other 14 — testified about texting with the defendant and her sister until late in the evening, but under cross examination by Kornish who produced the phone records, the last transmission from the witnesses to the defendant was at 10:18 p.m. on July 16, 2012.

Chris Stanley, an employee at the Appalachian Inn, testified under direct examination by defense counsel Thomas Evans about the switchboard operations at the complex and testified that AT&T cell service doesn’t work in that area.

Under cross-examination by Kornish, Stanley testified that Tammy Shortridge had paid for room 1033 where Earl Click and Roy Darrell “Uncle Donnie” Harding stayed. He also testified about telephones in and out of the complex through the evening of July 16, 2012.

Rebecca Hatcher, 32, testified under direct examination that she had been a member of Mayor Hatcher’s family for 18 years and became emotional as she testified that she thought of him as a father. “I became a Catholic because of him,” she testified.

Hatcher testified that her father-in-law put the dead bolt lock on his bedroom door because her husband, John Hatcher was going into his father’s room to steal things to sell. She said the argument between she and her father-in-law was caused by her unauthorized $160 withdrawal from Mayor Hatcher’s bank account, and because she ordered her son a pair of customized Nike tennis shoes that went over the $140 limit that Tom Hatcher had set for the shoes.

She testified that she withdrew the cash without permission so she could gamble at Momma Lina’s. She testified that she did it without her father-in-law’s knowledge because Mayor Hatcher didn’t approve of her gambling. “He said it looked bad on us being Catholics,” she testified.

She testified that she was successful gambling — winning $400 one time and $585 another time. She testified that after she and Mayor Hatcher argued at his residence, she went to her mother’s home at Looney’s Creek, drove to the Appalachian Inn to take Harding back to Earl Click’s residence, then ate brownies with her sister as she worked to learn the lyrics to a rap song.

In response to Flinchum’s question as to whether she killed her father-in-law, Hatcher became emotional again as she testified: “No sir. I did not. I would never hurt him.”

Under cross examination by Kornish, Hatcher testified about some additional activities on Mayor Hatcher’s bank card, but when she stuck by her testimony that she did not leave her mother’s home after 11:30 p.m. on July 16, 2012, Kornish brought up her videotaped interview with law enforcement on July 19, 2012.

McDowell County Circuit Court Judge Rudolph J. “Rick” Murensky II, sent the jury to their room, and permitted Kornish to play the video to refresh Hatcher’s memory. On the video, Hatcher stated that she took her mother’s vehicle sometime after 4:15 a.m. on July 17, 2012 to pick up her brother. “My mother didn’t even know,” she stated on the video.

After Murensky brought the jury back, Hatcher testified in response to Kornish’s question as to if she left her mother’s residence to pick up her brother, “Yes, that’s what I told the police.”

In addition to White, the state called Elmer Bailey as a rebuttal witness. Bailey, an inmate in McDowell County awaiting extradition to Fairfax County, Va., testified under direct examination by Kornish, that Rebecca Hatcher had expressed that she wished her father-in-law was dead because “He was hating on her,” he testified. “It’s been weighing on my mind for a long time. I thought someone needed to step up and tell the truth.”

Murensky instructed the jury on the law, and scheduled closing arguments to begin at 9 a.m. this morning.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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