Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 4, 2014

Pretrial hearing held for suspects in Mercer County murder case

PRINCETON — Three separate court hearings were conducted Thursday for two men and a woman facing murder and other charges in the April 2011 slaying of a Summers County man.

Oscar Combs Sr., 44, Oscar Combs Jr., 21, and Linda Ann Combs, 38, appeared for pretrial hearings in Mercer County Circuit Court before Judge Derek Swope. All three defendants have been charged with first-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy in the murder of James “Bo” Butler of Summers County. Butler was shot execution-style in the back of his head along Route 10 at Herdon Mountain in Mercer County. The alleged motive for the shooting was robbery.

Oscar Combs Jr., appeared in court first. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John McGinnis told the court that the current plan is to try Oscar Combs Sr., first, followed by Combs Jr., and Linda Combs. The father and son are currently being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, and Linda Combs is free on a $10,000 bond. All three trials are currently scheduled to begin Sept. 23.

The attorney for Combs Jr., Elizabeth French of the Mercer County Public Defender’s Office, said there needed to be a hearing so the court could hear suppression motions concerning statements her client made to investigators and evidence that was seized. The defense wanted to poll potential jurors in order to see if a change in venue motion was necessary.

Swope scheduled a hearing for Aug. 27 to consider all the motions.

The case of Linda Combs was heard next, who was represented by attorney Joe and Tim Harvey. Swope set another Aug. 27 hearing to consider motions in her case. One potential issue to address is whether spousal privilege would apply for Linda Combs, a former wife of Oscar Combs, Sr., McGinnis said.

 Swope replied that usually in a case of divorce, any communications are privileged, but observations one spouse made of the other are not. Another pretrial hearing was scheduled for Aug. 14, and Linda Combs remains free on bond.

Oscar Combs Sr., was brought into court for the last hearing. His attorneys, David Kelly and Michael Cook, said the defense would argue that Combs Sr., did not murder Butler. The defense also moved to dismiss the charges against Combs Sr., arguing the murder took place in Wyoming County. McGinnis said if a crime took place on county line, it could be tried in either county.

Swope said dismissing the charge in Mercer County would not result in double jeopardy. Combs Sr. could be indicted again in another county.

Cook then asked Swope to consider bond for Combs Sr., since Linda Combs, who faces the same charges, was free on bond. McGinnis said the state opposed bond given the seriousness of the charges and because Combs Sr., suspect in a Wyoming County murder: Combs Sr., has not been charged in that case. Swope denied the motion for bond.

“What Mr. Combs needs is the speediest trial he can get,” Swope stated, adding that preparing for a trial properly takes time. Combs Sr. and the other defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

In each of the three cases, Swope said that one of Butler’s relatives worked at the Mercer County Courthouse and cleaned his office. Swope said he has not discussed the case with her and instructed his staff not to discuss it. Swope added that he had no plans to recuse himself from the case and would resist a motion to be recused.

Both Combs Sr., and Combs Jr., were remanded back to the regional jail.

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