Threatening letters delay trials

Diane Pottorff

March 11, 2009

POINT PLEASANT Two trials had to be continued into the next term after officials received word of a letter that allegedly threatened potential jurors.
On Tuesday, Mason County Circuit Judge Thomas Evans announced that the office of the Mason County Circuit Clerk had notified him Monday that potential jurors had given the letters to the clerks office. Other potential jurors notified the prosecuting attorneys office, the Mason County Detachment of the West Virginia State Police and the Mason County Sheriffs Department.
In turn, Evans said he contacted the attorneys for both sides of each case, who agreed to a hearing.
On Tuesday, a jury of 12 was to be selected from a pool of 35 to hear the case of Daniel L. Hall of Letart, who was indicted by the May 2007 grand jury on two counts first-degree sexual assault, two counts incest and two counts of sexual abuse by a custodian.
According to Evans, the letter allegedly was sent to potential jurors from a supporter of the defendant. He added that he doesnt know how that person obtained the jury list.
Evans said the letters that were sent were postmarked with Saturdays date from a post office in Charleston. He also said he had viewed a copy of the letter and that what he read was inflammatory and more than a veiled threat.
Prosecutor Damon Morgan asked the court if copies of the letter could be entered in the court, with the originals going to Cpl. K.M. Gilley for an investigation. The motion was granted.
Evans also granted a motion for the content of the letter to be sealed pending the outcome of the investigation.
This is not fair to the people who want to participate in a jury trial, and it is not fair to the defendant, Evans said.
Donna Neville, circuit court deputy clerk, testified that the jury panels are divided into two phases. Phase I meets for trials during the first two months of the term, with the second phase meeting during the last two.
Court terms follow the meeting of the grand jury in January, May and September.
Neville said she prepared the list and distributed it to Morgan and Halls attorney, Lee Benford, and to Matt Clark, attorney for Charles Lee Deel of Glenwood.
If Halls trial had been continued, the court would have heard the case against Deel, who was indicted by the September 2008 grand jury for 15 counts of use of obscene matter with intent to seduce a minor and 12 counts of third-degree sexual assault.
Neville said an employee with family court, who once had been employed with Benford, apparently delivered the list to the attorneys office. She also said she spoke with the potential jurors, who expressed fear and were upset about receiving the letter.
A family member of one of the potential jurors (who wished to not be identified) said she thinks the letter was from a family member of the defendant. She said the family member was not scared for him/herself but for the family.
That potential juror was ready to sit on the jury for the trial, but the family member added that it bothered her that the writer of the letter got the names and addresses of potential jurors.
We want to do our civic duty, but this threat was serious stuff, she said, adding that she would like to see whomever wrote the letter caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Evans granted a motion of Morgans to suspend distributing the jury list until further notice.
Halls case has been continued to 9:30 a.m. May 11, when attorneys will present motions and set a new trial date.
The trial for Deel will be 9:30 a.m. July 14.
Also in the circuit court, Thomas Leslie Darst of Vinton, Ohio, entered a plea of guilty for failure to pay support of a minor child per a plea agreement. He will be sentenced May 11.