By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PRINCETON — Click here for video of Thomas Hall's sentencing.
Click here for video of Tammy Keen in court.
Two separate sentencing hearings held Monday in Mercer County Circuit Court brought some closure in the case of a local man whose body was found in 2011 near Interstate 77.
The first person on the court docket was Thomas Tyler Hall, 39, of Princeton. Hall pleaded guilty on March 5 to second-degree murder. He had been charged with first-degree murder in the March 2011 death of 41-year-old Timothy DeWitt of Princeton.
The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department was alerted when workers performing maintenance on an Interstate 77 bridge near Camp Creek spotted DeWitt’s body near a Bluestone Falls area known locally as the gorge. In early August 2012, sheriff’s department detectives and deputies tracked down and arrested Hall along with Tammy Lee Keen, 39, also of Princeton. A third suspect, Chad Hylton, 35, is currently being held on unrelated charges at the Montgomery County Jail in Virginia.
Judge William Sadler sentenced Hall to 40 years in prison, the maximum term for second-degree murder. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said later that Hall could be eligible for parole in 10 years. If Hall is not granted parole, but still receives time off for good behavior, he could be released within 20 years. He received 265 days of credit for the time he has been jailed since his arrest.
Sitler stated during the hearing that the prosecution did not believe Hall planned the crime, but he admitted to shooting at DeWitt. Bullets from Hall’s gun and one used by Hylton were recovered from DeWitt’s body.
The victim’s brother, James DeWitt, called the killing a “ruthless, cold” crime. He asked Judge Sadler to impose the strongest penalty available against Hall.
“This was just an awful act,” he told the court.
Hall took the opportunity to address the court and DeWitt’s family before he was sentenced.
“Your honor, I can’t change what happened. I accept responsibility, and I’m very sorry for his family,” Hall stated.
Sadler denied any motion for probation. “The court cannot look aside from what I consider brutal murder. Mr. Hall and others set out on a plan to take this man’s life,” he said.
The judge added that the plan to lure DeWitt to the gorge and rob him was not something done “in the heat of the moment.”
“He made a conscious decision to participate in this plan, and because of this plan, a man lost his life,” Sadler said.
An hour after Hall’s hearing, Tammy Lee Keen was brought before Sadler for her sentencing. Keen previously pleaded to second-degree murder and robbery first degree for her role in DeWitt’s death.
Sadler sentenced Keen to 40 years for the murder charge and 10 years for robbery. The sentences will run consecutively, giving her a total of 50 years in prison. She received 265 days credit for the time she has served in jail since her arrest.
The sentence was enhanced because a gun was used; the enhancement means she would have to serve a third of the sentence, approximately 16.6 years, before she is eligible for parole. If she is not granted parole, but receives time off for good behavior, Keen could be released in 25 years, Sitler said.
Sadler stated that the total sentence handed to Keen was the comparable to a sentence for first-degree murder with mercy. When handing down the sentence, Sadler described Keen as the “common denominator” in the case who “set the whole unfortunate series of events into motion.”
DeWitt’s sister, Janet DeWitt Edwards, wore her brother’s photograph as she addressed the court. She said Keen showed no remorse for her actions. There are now children without a father. Keen, who knew Timothy DeWitt, even came to the family’s home.
“She visited and had coffee with our mother, and she showed no guilt, no remorse,” Edwards told the court.
Keen declined to speak when Sadler asked if she had anything to say.
After the second hearing, members of DeWitt’s family said they believed both Hall and Keen should have been sentenced for first-degree murder.
“We’re not completely happy,” James DeWitt said, adding that the sentences were “ a slap in the face,” but the family would move forward. He said that his brother had four children and two grandchildren.
James DeWitt took the opportunity to thank Detective R.M. Combs and other members of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department for the investigation that led to the arrests.
Work is still underway to bring Chad Hylton back to West Virginia, Sitler said.
Attorneys Mark Wills and William Flanigan represented Hall in court. Attorneys Derrick Lefler and Paul Cassell handled Keen's case.