Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 4, 2014

Click trial stalls for question

WELCH — An objection by defense counsel Ronald Hassan, while McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Kornish was re-cross-examining Tammy Shortridge, prompted the court to continue the Earl Click trial until 9:15 a.m. this morning.

Click, 28, of Grundy, Va., is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy relating to the July 17, 2012 death of War Mayor Thomas Clark Hatcher.

Shortridge, Click’s mother, had just testified that her daughter, Rebecca (Click) Hatcher, had spent the night of July 16, 2012 and morning of the following day at her home on Looney’s Creek in Buchanan County. Kornish asked her if Rebecca Hatcher could have used her vehicle to leave the residence that night or morning, and Shortridge was emphatic in her response.

“She couldn’t have taken my Trail Blazer because my keys were in my purse and the purse was in my bedroom with me,” Shortridge testified.

Her testimony sent Kornish into a copy of transcripts. When he couldn’t find what he was searching for in about two minutes, McDowell County Circuit Court Judge Booker T. Stephens suggested breaking for lunch since it was about 11:50 a.m.

Stephens asked the jury to return at 1:30 p.m.

When the jury returned after the lunch break, Kornish approached Shortridge with a document and asked her to review it. Hassan asked if opposing counsel could approach the bench. After a brief discussion, Stephens sent the jury on another break.

“We have a question of law that we’re going to have to do some research on,” Stephens told the jury.

At about 2:25 p.m. the court met with both counsel and the defendant before bringing the jury back into the courtroom. Stephens told the jury that the parties have had a bench conference and as a result: “I’m going to let you go home now,” he said.

He reported to the jury that the trial “is still going strong,” and added that he still hopes to finish the trial by Thursday.

At the beginning of the trial day, Kornish called one witness — McDowell County Deputy Sheriff Mark Shelton — prior to resting his case. Under direct examination, Shelton testified that Mayor Hatcher always carried a money clip, but it was not among his possessions when Shelton searched his bedroom after he was found dead at his residence on July 17, 2012.

Shelton testified that based on information developed during the investigation, he and other deputies searched Bradshaw Mountain for a bag that was believed to contain the money clip.

“We went back two or three different times,” Shelton testified. In response to Kornish’s question as to whether or not the search was successful, Shelton testified: “No sir, it was not.”

The state rested, and outside the presence of the jury, Hassan made a motion for acquittal, stating “the state has failed to establish that a murder has taken place.”

Stephens denied the defense motion, stating that the state medical examiner testified that Hatcher’s death was a homicide.

The judge then spoke with Click about his intention to testify in the case. He told the defendant that he is not required to testify and that if he did, Kornish would have the right to cross-examine him. Click still said: “Yes sir,” to the question about testifying on his own behalf.

Hassan called Waldro Buenafe of McDowell Medical Associates Inc., as his first witness. Buenafe testified under direct examination that he had treated Hatcher for several acute illnesses from 1996 to 2012.

Under Kornish’s cross-examination, Buenafe testified that on his last visit on March 27, 2012, “he just came in for blood work,” Buenafe testified.

Jonathan Carolla, who was then an EMT with McDowell County Ambulance Service, but is now a paramedic, testified that he reported “no evidence of trauma,” on his report of the incident. He also testified that he “did not see his cuts.”

On cross-examination, he testified that he saw the plastic bag on the bed, and in response to Kornish’s question as to if he looked closely, Carolla responded: “No sir.”

Click’s 14-year-old sister testified that she and her sister, Rebecca (Click) Hatcher, returned to the Looney’s Creek residence late in the evening of July 16, 2012, and testified that Rebecca did not leave again that night or early the next morning. “We got up around 9 or 9:30 a.m.,” she testified.

Under cross-examination by Kornish, Click’s young sister testified that she last texted Rebecca’s son, Jonathan, at 2:15 a.m., but when Kornish showed her telephone records that indicated the last text she received that evening from Jonathan came at 10:18 p.m. on July 16. “I don’t remember answering my phone that day,” she testified.

Prior to Kornish’s question on cross-examination that halted the trial, Tammy Shortridge testified under Hassan’s direct examination that her brother, Roy Darnell “Uncle Donnie” Harding, had moved in with Earl Click at the Appalachian Inn about two weeks before Hatcher’s death. She said her son had only been out of prison for an unrelated crime for 27 days before Hatcher was found dead.

Under direct examination, Shortridge testified that Harding used her husband’s Ford Ranger pickup truck to pick up Rebecca Hatcher in War, and bring her back to Looney’s Creek where the family was going to attend the wake for her mother-in-law, Ada Mae Shortridge who died on July 15, 2012. She testified that she took the defendant to Magic Mart and bought him a suit. “He was a pallbearer,” she testified.

She testified that the pickup truck was overheating, so she let Rebecca Hatcher and her 14-year-old daughter use her Trail Blazer to drive Harding back to the Appalachian Inn. She testified that her two daughters got back at about 11:30 p.m. on July 16, 2012. She also testified that she got up at 4:30 a.m. to turn her daughter’s television set down, and saw her two daughters asleep at the time.

She testified that her brother, Harding, was “raging mad,” at about midnight on July 17, 2012 and wanted to go to War. “He went in my husband’s other truck,” she testified. “As far as I know, he went back to War.”

Kornish did not get too far into his cross-examination when the court started researching the law concerning the question he wanted to ask.

Hassan reported that his expert witness was delayed due to extreme weather conditions in the Northeast, and said he will not be available to testify until Wednesday morning. The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:15 a.m. today.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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