PRINCETON — The legal and the law enforcement communities of Mercer County came together Tuesday to honor the memory of an attorney, prosecutor and judge that they all regarded as both a mentor and a friend.
Tuesday was the birthday of the late Circuit Court Judge David W. Knight, who passed away Feb. 20 at the age of 85. He was born in Keystone on Sept. 15, 1935 to the late John Mack and Elizabeth Muriel Terry Knight.
Knight went on to graduate from Beaver High School, Concord University and the West Virginia School of Law. After working in private practice, he was elected as Mercer County’s prosecuting attorney. He served as prosecutor for 21 years before then Gov. Gaston Caperton appointed him as one of Mercer County’s circuit court judges. After serving on the bench for 12 years, he served as a senior circuit court judge and presided when needed in several courts across the state.
The courtroom of Circuit Court Judge William Sadler was filled with people ready to share their memories of Judge David W. Knight. On the wall, a memorial plaque honoring him was ready to join others honoring distinguished members of the legal community. Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope welcomed the audience and thanked them for such a good turnout to honor Knight.
Knight was a lawyer, judge prosecutor, railroad buff and movie buff, Swope said.
“There’s a lot of things you can say about David Knight, but you can’t say them all,” Swope stated. “Today would have been his 86th birthday.”
United States Magistrate Judge Omar Aboulhosn for the U.S. District Court conducted the ceremony’s opening prayer. During the prayer, he spoke of “the masterful away” Knight conducted himself as an attorney, prosecutor and judge. Aboulhousn is among the many members of the legal community who worked with Knight and/or appeared before him in court.
“There is no question that we are all better off for having known him and having him be a part of our lives,” Aboulhosn said.
County Commissioner Bill Archer was a reporter for a weekly newspaper and later the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
“I moved to Mercer County in 1982 and started hearing the legend of Prosecutor David Knight,” Archer said. He recalled one early encounter he had with Prosecutor Knight.
“I went to a press conference. I made the huge mistake of asking about all the plea bargains,” Archer said with a smile. “He responded that I didn’t know anything about the court or anything about what he was doing on any plea.”
Archer said later that he remembered how Knight always treated him and others “with the full level of respect.”
Former Sheriff Don Meadows remembered meeting Knight after joining the West Virginia State Police.
“He didn’t miss a trick,” Meadows said. “It’s too bad every policeman could not have the opportunity to be in a trial with David Knight.”
Prosecutor David W. Knight prepared throughly for a trial, and he expected members of law enforcement to be through when they investigated a crime.
“He planned it all down and you better be ready to investigate,” Meadows said. “He didn’t want no surprises. He was a wonderful man.”
Former Chief Deputy William Gearhart said that he was a rookie police officer when he met Knight. One of their first encounters came after Gearhart answered a call about a shooting which turned out to be a murder with two other people wounded. The next day, Gearhart was called to the prosecutor’s office; instead of being in trouble as he feared, Gearhart received advice and reassurance.
“We became really close friends,” Gearhart said. “I can’t count the times I called David and asked him for advice, because he was one the smartest men I’ve ever known. He went far beyond his job as prosecutor. He was a mentor to me. He helped train me. I really learned so much and he taught me so much. He could give me such good advice and helped make me a much better policeman. He was more than just a friend to me.”
Attorney John Shott, who is also a former delegate for Mercer County in the Legislature, remembered Knight being his “unlikely rescuer.”
After Shott started his legal career with a law firm, he decided to try going out on his own. After his wife explained that supporting their family could become difficult, someone suggested going to Knight and applying for a part-time position at the prosecuting attorney’s office. At this time, the Shott family owned the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, which had been critical about Knight at times.
Knight “never could have been more kind,” Shott recalled. “I served in that position and saved my neck, and it gave me a lot of experience over that next three years.”
Retired Circuit Court Judge John R. Frazier, who served on the bench for 25 years, spent many years of his legal career working with Knight.
“David from the very beginning impressed me as a lawyer and a prosecutor,” Frazier said. “David was very professional. You knew that he had that most important attribute for a prosecutor and later a judge: a sense of justice. He could see when it was some young person who did something stupid as opposed to some hardened criminal.”
Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org