By JOHN G. WOLFE
If early voting figures count then the General Election turnout in Lewis County should be a high. Since early voting began last Wednesday and as of Monday over 500 people have cast their ballots averaging over 100 people per day, according to Deputy County Clerk Cindy Rowan. Lewis County has always had a higher voter turnout average than the state as a whole.
The General Election is set for next Tuesday, with polls open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. According to Rowan, polling places have not changed and will be at the same locations as the last election. Government offices will be closed on General Election day next Tuesday
Registered voters may still take advantage of early voting by casting their ballots through the rest of this week between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Lewis County Courthouse, or on Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the courthouse. Saturday is the last day for early voting before the Tuesday election.
Voters will be selecting a new U.S. Senator, predicted to send either Republican Shelley Moore Capito or Democrat Natalie Tennant to fill the seat vacated by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Either way, West Virginia is set to make history by electing its first woman U.S. Senator from the state. The new Senator will serve a six-year term.
Elected to a two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives will be Capito's replacement. The winner of this race is expected to be either Republican Alex Mooney or Democrat Nick Casey.
At the state level, voters in West Virginia will be electing a third of all State Senators and all 100 members of the House of Delegates. Locally, the State Senate race is between Republican Mike Queen and Democrat Mike Romano. Incumbent Delegate Peggy Donaldson Smith, a Democrat, is being challenged by former Weston City Manager and Republican Jim Atchison.
The races capturing most local attention are for the position of Circuit Judge and Prosecuting Attorney. Current Circuit Judge Kurt W. Hall, a Democrat and a resident of Lewis County is being challenged by Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger, the nominee of the Republican Party. Hall was appointed to the position by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin following the retirement of former Circuit Judge Thomas Keadle, a Democrat, last year.
The elected Circuit Judge will serve both Lewis and Upshur Counties so for many voters the race has set up a Lewis v. Upshur sort of scenario. A high voter turnout in either county could possible tip the results in what is expected to be a close race. The winner will fill out the remainder of former Judge Keadle's term through 2016.
Prosecuting Attorney Lea Ann Hawkins, a Democrat, is being challenged Republican Christy Flanigan. Hawkins was appointed to the position by the Lewis County Commission following the resignation for retirement pusposes of former Prosecutor Mike Smith. Smith narrowly defeated Flanigan in the 2012 General Election and the race is expected to be a close one. The winner will fill out the remainder of Smith's term through 2016.
County Commissioner Pat Boyle, a Democrat, will be re-elected as he has no opposition in the race. Boyle will serve a six year term on the Commission.
Also on the ballot is an amendment to the State Constitution that if passed would allow the National Boy Scout Camp in Fayette County to lease out their facilities to for-profit groups to hold large events such as concerts and bike races without jeopardizing their non-profit tax exempt status of the Scouts. A separate story on the proposed amendment is found in this issue of the Weston Democrat.
Any questions about voting or proper precinct locations can be directed to Deputy County Clerk Cindy Rowan by calling 304-269-8215.
Weston Is Called
Safest City inWV
Weston Mayor Julia Spelsberg announced last week that MOVOTO, a web-based national real estate company, named Weston as the safest city in West Virginia. The distinction is for cities with populations of 3,000 or more and is based on FBI crime statistics for the year 2012.
This announcement was followed by one from Safewise.com, naming Weston as the 7th safest community in the state. Their ranking was for all cities in the state with 1,500 or more in population and was also based on FBI crime statistics for 2012. Safewise also ranked West Virginia as the 15th safest state in the nation.
MOVOTO's website states that it judged West Virginia cities by crimes per 100,000 people to get their statistics. On Weston, their website said, "Residents of this city had just a one in 515 chances of being the victim of a crime - that's not just the best in the state, but one of the lowest in all the states we've looked at. To put that into perspective for you, just take a look at Princeton or Beckley, where the chances were about one in 10."
Safewise analyzed the number of violent crimes, consisting of aggravated assaults, forcible rape, murder and robbery as well as property crimes consisting of arson, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. They then calculated the chance of these crimes happening out of one thousand in order to create a level playing field. They report that in 2012, Weston proper had no violent crimes, and had 1.94 property crimes per 1,000 people.
In the MOVOTO release, Weston was followed by Ripley, Weirton, Bridgeport, Oak Hill, Keyser, Williamson, Ravenswood, Vienna and Nitro.
In the Safewise release, the safest city in the state was judged to be Stonewood, followed by Kingwood, Paden City, White Sulpher Springs, Eleanor, Romney, Weston, Harrisville, Ripley and Winfield. Many of these communities have populations of less than the 3,000 used in the Movoto calculation.
Safewise had this to say about the Weston area, "Whether you live for fishing and hunting, or enjoy biking and kayaking, Weston offers an activity to entertain every outdoor enthusiast. The Stonewall Jackson Lake Wildlife Management Area is one of the areas greatest claims to fame. Boasting more than 18,000 acres of amazing forest, rolling hills and wildlife galore, its centerpiece is Stonewall Jackson Lake. Trout, rappie, and largemouth bass are just a few of the fish commonly caught in the 2,650 acre lake. Situated in the heart of West Virginia, just off I-79, Weston is one hour south of the much larger city of Morgantown and 90 minutes northeast of Charleston. If you're seeking a safe community that can satisfy your thirst for outdoor adventure, look no further than Weston."
A Lewis County man accused of the murder of his mother and grandmother back in 1999 was in court last Friday, where his attorneys argued for a dismissal of the charges against him.
Attorneys representing the accused, Joseph Metz, have entered three motions in Lewis County Circuit Court seeking dismissal of the murder charges against their client. Two motions are on grounds that the indictment against him is flawed and one motion alleges prosecutorial misconduct during presentment of the case to a grand jury back in July.
In a hearing held last Thursday, Circuit Judge Kurt W. Hall heard arguments on two of those motions dealing with defense claims that the indictment against Metz was flawed and postponed a hearing on alleged prosecutorial misconduct until a later date. He did not rule on any motions during the Thursday hearing.
Metz's attorney, Dennis Willett, told Judge Hall that charges against Metz should be dismissed because the indictment included language about the possibility of Metz receiving a life sentence if convicted and that the indictment did not include the statutory language alleging that Metz did "slay, kill or murder" his mother Mary Friend and his grandmother Maxine Stalnaker.
Willett said that a possible sentence should not have been presented to a grand jury, as discussion of any punishment is not part of their job. Willett said that while he could find no West Virginia case law regarding the topic, that in federal court grand juries are instructed not to consider any possible penalty.
He also argued that the indictment against Metz alleged that he "caused the death of," when the applicable statute says that first degree murder included the language "did slay, kill or murder." The language used by the state in the indictment "does not meet the standards required for a first degree murder charge," he said.
In response, Prosecuting Attorney Lea Anne Hawkins said that the indictment was proper, fully explains with what Metz is charged and is appropriate under the law. "A grand jury can pretty much consider anything they choose to consider. One would be pretty hard pressed to find a grand juror that didn't know that the penalty for first degree murder is a life sentence," she said.
With regards to failure to use the language of "slay, kill or murder," Hawkins said all the elements of the crime are included in the indictment and that the state is "not required to set forth the manner of homicide in an indictment form." Hawkins said that she had used the language "caused the death of" in previous cases that she had prosecuted without any problems.
During the arguments, Judge Hall said that grand juries have much leeway and that there are cases where improper evidence was presented to a grand jury that did not render the indictments invalid. Hall also said that an indictment that mentions a possible life sentence could, perhaps, discourage a juror from indicting someone as much as having the opposite effect. He also said that language in an indictment saying, "cause the death," should be sufficient for someone to know they are charged with first degree murder.
In the end, Hall took the defense motions under advisement and indicated he wanted to take time to read the grand jury transcript. He instructed both sides to present case law and more substantive arguments to him before he could rule on the motions. While not directly chastising Metz's attorneys, he did say that when filing such motions attorneys should provide case law to back up their arguments when the motions are filed.
He instructed the defense attorneys to get him case law or court decisions that back up their argument within 10 days, and gave the state five days to submit rebuttal after the defense presents their information. Judge Hall will then set a date to rule on the first two motions.
The third motion dealing with alleged prosecutorial misconduct will be dealt with in another hearing and while not mentioned in court is believed to be centered on the testimony of a witness before the grand jury that indicted Metz.
Also in court last Friday was Nicholas Lawson, age 22, who was sentenced to prison for the crime of operating a methamphetamine lab. Lawson had previously been sent to the Anthony Correctional Center for Youthful Offenders, but had been returned to appear in court as an unsuitable candidate for their program.
Lawson said he was ready to accept the penalty for his crime and that even if an alternative sentence such as home confinement were considered he had no way of completing such a sentence.
With that, Judge Hall sentenced Lawson to 2 - 10 years in prison, with a recommendation that he receive any drug rehabilitation treatment available in the prison system. Lawson was given credit for time served in jail and at Anthony and was ordered to pay related court costs within two years.