by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Earl Click began his allocution by thanking the court for giving him a fair trial, but McDowell County Circuit Court Judge Booker T. Stephens stopped him as he continued: “I’m not happy with the outcome.”
Stephens explained that if he intended to appeal the court’s sentence, he probably shouldn’t thank the court for giving him a fair trial. At the judge’s request, Click, 27, took his fair trial statement back, and proceeded to say: “I’m sorry for the victim’s family,” but went on to say that he believes that the victim died of natural causes.
“To my family, I thank them for remaining strong and let them know that I love them,” Click said.
A McDowell County jury deliberated 88 minutes on Feb. 5, before returning verdicts of guilty of murder in the first degree with a recommendation of mercy, and guilty of conspiracy against Click for the July 17, 2012, suffocation murder of War Mayor Dr. Thomas Clark Hatcher. Click’s trial ran for six days. Defense counsel Ronald Hassan offered a theory that Hatcher, 72, who had diabetes, COPD and cardiac problems died of natural causes. At the hearing, Hassan asked the court to let his sentences run concurrently.
At the beginning of the sentencing hearing, McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Kornish asked the court’s permission for Hatcher’s sister, Jerry Roncella, to address the court. With the court’s permission, Roncella stated that she was also speaking for her younger brother, James Hatcher, and the rest of their family.
“I do want you and the court to know that Tom was an outstanding person,” she said, reading from prepared remarks. “He was intelligent, compassionate and kind. And I’m not just saying this because I am his sister, although I admit that I am biased. All one has to do is talk to the people of War who he served for these many years and others who knew him through his many community and personal interests.
“Tom was also committed to his family,” Roncella continued. “He did everything he could for his son John who, as a habitual drug addict, would have died on several occasions without Tom’s help and support. He also continued to support John’s wife and son when John was imprisoned. And please believe me when I say that not many people in this world would have done this considering all that John and Becky did to him,” she said, making reference to Hatcher’s daughter-in-law, Rebecca (Click) Hatcher, who was acquitted on the first degree murder charge, and faces a June 2, trial date for a retrial on her conspiracy charge.
“They not only stole money and household belongings, but they also threatened him and made him a prisoner in his own home, often having to lock himself in his own bedroom at night for his own protection” Roncella said. “But he continued to live under these unthinkable conditions for one reason and one reason only: To ensure that his grandson Jonathan would at least have a chance for some type of future.
“My primary reason for speaking here today, however, is to express our family’s outrage over what happened to Tom and how he died,” Roncella told the court. “We cannot imagine the terror he must have felt the night he awoke and realized what was happening. What was he thinking about? How much did he suffer? These questions will haunt us for the rest of our lives.
“So as a representative of our family and of Tom’s many friends, I ask the court to show Earl Click the same compassion he showed when he brutally ended Tom’s life and sentence him to the maximum penalty allowed by the laws of this state. Only then can justice truly be served,” Roncella said.
Stephens noted that Click still maintains his innocence, and while the court recognized his right to do so, Stephens pointed out: “You have not shown any remorse.” Stephens said that he had the opportunity to review Click’s pre-sentencing report “that puts you in a very high range for general risk category.” He noted that Click discharged his sentence on a breaking and entering charge after seven years in prison.
“You get out in June 2012. This murder occurs in July 2012. You had been out of jail for less than a month before this murder took place,” Stephens said. The court explained that he had given Click a break when he sentenced him on the B&E charge and sent him to the Anthony Center, but after a three or four month period, “the center sent you back to this court,” Stephens said.
Stephens said that Click is a young person who has not made an attempt to rehabilitate himself. “Most of your adult life has been spent locked up,” Stephens said. Still, the judge noted that Click continues to maintain his innocence with “no remorse in your heart.” The court noted that Hatcher was “still living, notwithstanding his health condition ... notwithstanding he was a loving and kind person,” he said. “No one has the right to take another person’s life,” he said. “That is something you will have to live with for the rest of your life.”
Stephens recalled the words Kornish used in his closing argument that he would seek a guilty without mercy verdict, but noted “if Tom Hatcher were alive, he would want the jury to return a verdict with a recommendation of mercy.” Stephens then sentenced Click to prison “for the rest of your life ... your natural life.” He told Click that he will be eligible for parole in 15 years, but noted that the parole board will ask people familiar with the crime before making a decision.
The court also sentenced Click to an indeterminate term of 1 to 5 years in prison on the conspiracy count, and ordered the sentences to run consecutively.
Hassan asked the court to appoint Click new counsel to handle Click’s appeal, and the court agreed.