WELCH - After listening to closing arguments and deliberating for almost three hours, a McDowell County jury found a Raysal man guilty of first-degree murder in the December 2017 shooting death of his girlfriend.
Charles Kennedy, 28, of Raysal was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 24-year-old Emily Hatfield, also of Raysal. The case began when McDowell 911 received a call Dec. 22, 2017, from Kennedy in which he said Hatfield had been shot. Hatfield was shot once in the head and died at the scene.
After the jury rendered its verdict, Circuit Court Judge Rudolph J. Murensky II said there would be a second phase of the trial to determine whether Kennedy’s sentence would come with a recommendation of mercy or no mercy. With mercy, he would be eligible for parole after serving 15 years.
The jurors returned to their chamber and after discussing the matter, decided to return Friday morning. They will then hear state and defense witnesses, and rule whether to recommend mercy or no mercy.
In her closing argument, Prosecutor Emily Miller asked the jury to find Kennedy guilty of first-degree murder. The other possible verdicts were second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Miller told the jurors that Kennedy wanted them to believe that the shooting was an accident, and had “offered several stories” about how it happened. The accounts included somebody trying to break into the home, the gun was on the bed and it went off, or the gun “could have been thrown in the air and went off.”
A medical examiner testified that Hatfield’s gunshot wound showed that the gun had been pressed tightly against her head, giving the shot’s gases nowhere to go but into her head, Miller stated. The wound was in her forehead and the shot went downward.
“Either Emily was falling backward and the gun just magically falls off the bed and lands in that position, which it doesn’t seem to be capable of; or Emily Hatfield was on her knees, the gun was pressed against her head, the trigger was pulled and it shot her and killed her,” Miller said.
A forensic firearms expert, Ronald Scott of Phoenix, Ariz., testified Wednesday that unless the gun was malfunctioning, it had no reason to go off unless its trigger was pulled, Miller said. The West Virginia State Police crime lab determined that the gun, a .38-caliber Taurus revolver, was functioning properly.
Attorney D.J. Morgan, who represented Kennedy, said in his closing argument that the state had not proven first-degree murder nor second-degree murder. The state had not shown any evidence of a motive. Morgan also said that the gun had not been tested to see if it could have fired by accident.
Morgan played a recording of a 911 call Kennedy made after Hatfield had been shot. He could be heard shouting hysterically.
“That does not sound like someone with an evil design, wicked, depraved and malicious. That sounds like a man who’s devastated, not someone with an evil design.”
Kennedy said repeatedly in the recording “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Ever apologize for an accident? Ever apologize for something you didn’t mean to do?” Morgan asked the jury. “Of course you have.”
Miller offered the jury a different perspective of the shooting that concerned the blood on Kennedy’s shirt and at the crime scene. The gun was found under Hatfield.
“She fell backward and got blood on his shirt,’ Miller stated. “That’s how he got blood on his chest and everything because he was right there when it happened. He laid her down and put a blanket on her. He wiped her hands on her shirt…she was dead. She couldn’t have done it. He took his Taurus, stuck it underneath her back and called 911.”
Miller also said Kennedy was not impaired by drugs when he was questioned by Senior Trooper J.A. Tupper of the West Virginia State Police Welch detachment. Kennedy was “medically cleared” at Welch Community Hospital after the shooting, and was “alert and argumentative” during the interview.
“He maintained Emily was shot in the left side of her head,” Miller said. “Well, he would know because he shot her.”