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Former Mineral Court deputy clerk charged with embezzlement

KEYSER, W.Va. — A former Mineral County chief deputy circuit clerk is due back in court next month after being charged in a prosecutor’s information Friday with embezzling money from office accounts.

Gary Duane Feaster is charged with using his position to steal more than $1,000 in public funds. A charge through information indicates Feaster is cooperating with prosecutors.

Special prosecutor Steve Conley, the director of the state Auditor’s Public Integrity and Fraud Unit, told Circuit Judge C. Carter Williams an investigation by the fraud unit determined Feaster took between $65,000 and $87,000 from the circuit clerk’s office over a three-year period.

Conley told the court Feaster used the money to fuel his alcohol and gambling problems.

Feaster was ready to enter a guilty plea to the charge Friday but instead Judge Williams, who is on the case by special assignment, arraigned Feaster and ordered a pre-sentencing report. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 17. Feaster may plead guilty in that hearing.

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey commented on the investigation that led to the charge.

“Something suspicious caught the attention of county employees, who brought it to the attention of local police, who called us in to provide the specialized financial crime investigation skills we can perform,” McCuskey said in a Friday news release. “Prosecutor Cody Pancake gladly accepted the services of our special prosecution staff who handled the case from beginning to end.”

Some of the money taken were restitution payments intended for crime victims.

McCuskey, who filed for reelection earlier this week, hinted Friday fraud cases in other counties are under investigation.

“These matters are serious and will be treated as such. You will see several more cases like this in the very near future,” McCuskey said.

Anyone with fraud information is asked to report it at (833) WV-FRAUD or the information can be posted anonymously online at www.wvsao.gov

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Intermediate court gets first look — again — in state Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers got their first look at the latest version of a proposed intermediate court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday afternoon heard a proposal for the court, which could hear civil cases between the circuit court and Supreme Court levels. They asked a few questions but delayed substantial discussion until Monday.

The intermediate court is a perennial at the Legislature. Observers suggest the proposal has a pretty good chance of passing the Senate this year, but wonder about support in the House of Delegates.

Price tag and whether the court is really necessary are always the big questions.

Another, according to this year’s hallway conversations, is whether the judges would be elected or appointed by the governor.

This version of the intermediate court is estimated to cost the state $6.3 million a year once it’s implemented, according to Sarah Canterbury, staff counsel for the Judiciary Committee.

That’s not a lot in the grand scheme of the $4.6 billion budget. But in a flat budget year, the spending proposal will be scrutinized.

As for whether an intermediate court is necessary, lawmakers saw a slide presentation showing a stable caseload for the current Supreme Court of Appeals.

Mike Woelfel

Senator Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, asked on Friday afternoon whether anyone from the judiciary branch is available to speak about the intermediate court.

“Is there a way we could ascertain whether the court itself or the individual justices feel like it’s needed?” he asked.

That’s part of the plan for Monday.

Earlier this month, when Chief Justice Tim Armstead made budget presentations to lawmakers, he was asked about the intermediate court.

Although Armstead was in favor of the intermediate court when he was House Speaker, he took a neutral position as a justice.

Noting that the court system’s budget proposal does not set aside money for an intermediate court, Armstead said on Jan. 13, “We are very much willing to work with the Legislature.”

The intermediate court is envisioned as two districts, northern and southern, with three judges on each panel.

The judges would be appointed by the governor — on advice and consent of the Senate — to 10-year terms. The terms would be staggered, and the judges wouldn’t be eligible for reappointment. The pay would be $130,000 a year.

Woelfel indicated he’s thinking over the power of appointment.

“The way it’s set up we’re going to trust the governor, whoever the governor is, to appoint those people.”

 

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Manchin, Capito ready for next phase of impeachment trial

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin says the impeachment case presented by House managers in this week’s trial in the U.S. Senate has been “quite eye-opening.”

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Joe Manchin

Manchin telling reporters in a hastily called Friday late morning conference call that he has taken in lots of information presented on the two articles of impeachment.

“The extensive amounts and the repetitiveness we’ve seen from different points of view have given us a different perspective that we didn’t have, that I didn’t have,” Manchin said.

Manchin indicated Friday he favors additional witnesses being called after President Trump’s team delivers its opening statement and senators have an opportunity to ask questions. Manchin said witnesses will lend to a fair trial.

“In order to keep our country united and uphold the people’s faith and trust and the standing we have in the world as the superpower of the world, I think it’s extremely important that we have a fair trial,” Manchin said. “And a fair trial means having all of the pertinent information that’s available, that we know is out there, come forth and those people who have first-hand knowledge be able to speak up.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito said Friday she hasn’t made up her mind about witnesses.

“This case is based on the information and the facts the House presents. If the House didn’t call John Bolton when they had the opportunity, I don’t think it is the Senate’s prerogative to call John Bolton,” Capito said during an appearance on WAJR’s Talk of the Town with Dave & Sarah Friday.

Friday marked the third day of arguments by House impeachment managers making their case that the president should be removed from office for abusing his power and obstructing congress.

Last month, the House approved articles of impeachment stemming from a phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s leader, in which Trump requested an investigation into his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden. The president also withheld aid to Ukraine, which required congressional intervention to overturn.

Shelley Moore Capito

Members of the House also allege that during the chamber’s investigation, Trump prevented officials from testifying and blocked documents.

“I haven’t heard much new. What I heard coming out of the House investigation is pretty much what I’ve heard,” Capito stated.

And she’s heard it over and over during sessions lasting between 10 and 12 hours each day.

“Honestly it has been a lot of repetitiveness. They’ve played video clips, the same ones, seven, eight, nine times to make the same points,” Capito said.

Manchin called the trial “extremely serious.”

“I have never been a juror. I’ve never been called to jury duty. This is truly a unique opportunity,” Manchin said.

Both senators said they were looking forward to hear the Trump defense which is scheduled to begin Saturday.

“I haven’t heard the president being able to defend himself to knock down any of the details or the facts,” Capito said.

Manchin said the House has done its job and now it’s time for the Senate to do what it’s charged to do.

“So I’m going to make sure that we do everything humanly possible to make an informed decision. That means having witnesses that we know had first-hand knowledge,” Manchin said.

MetroNews Reporter Dave Wilson contributed to this story. 

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Kanawha Board of Education begins search process on superintendent

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state’s largest school district is beginning the process of finding a new superintendent.

The Kanawha County Board of Education held a special session on Friday morning to begin the steps of replacing longtime superintendent Dr. Ron Duerring. He announced his retirement earlier this month.

Dr. Howard O’Cull with the West Virginia School Board Association presented to board members suggested options for the selection of a new superintendent. According to the school district, it includes important dates, statutory considerations, methodologies, sample job posting, sample qualification survey and more.

“It’ll set forth the what and how, and a timeline for taking the steps necessary to find a replacement,” Board of Education President Ryan White told MetroNews

KCBOE

Ryan White

“It’ll also give us an estimate of how much it would cost to utilize the state School Board Association.”

According to White, the state School Board Association helped the county 22 years ago in the same process when it hired Duerring. Recently, the body has helped Wood, Braxton and Berkeley counties.

On Friday, a motion was made by the board members, which was accepted, to ask for a formal proposal from O’Cull. They have requested this proposal by Monday and the board will meet again on Wednesday.

White said the board must hire someone by June 1 even though Duerring’s final day is June 30.

“I’m hoping we will get it done well before that,” White said. “I would like to have whoever is in place for a couple of months so Dr. Duerring can help them with the transition.”

White is hoping to get public input on the search into what people want in the next superintendent. A public meeting of that nature has yet to be set up.

He said it’s important to hire the right person in the district of more than 60 schools and dropping enrollment.

“I want someone who is going to be a very strong leader and be able to delegate the responsibilities of the superintendent, which includes a lot of schools,” White said.

“I want a person who can delegate that to the employees and be able to work with community members to ensure the school system is running as it’s needed to.”

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WVU BOG amends agreement with Morgantown power plant

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The WVU Board of Governors voted Friday to amend its contract with Morgantown Energy Associates regarding the switch from waste coal to natural gas at MEA’s power plant on Beechurst Avenue in Morgantown.

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Rob Alsop

Under an agreement approved by the state Public Service Commission last month, the plant stopped producing electricity for Mon Power on Jan. 1 and began producing only steam for both WVU campuses.

The PSC approved a $60 million settlement between MEA and Mon Power. The utility bought out the remaining years of its contract with MEA saying it no longer needs the power it generates. The facility has been producing 50 mega-watts of power since 1992.

WVU Vice president for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop told the BOG an amendment was needed to allow the switch.

“We have a contract to take steam from MEA through 2027,” Alsop said. “They have made a proposal to the university to no longer produce steam with coal, but with natural gas boilers.”

Alsop explained the original coal-based contract was negotiated about 25 years ago and it needed board authorization to substitute natural gas for coal.

“The existing contract price resets several times each year based on the price of coal, natural gas and industrial commodities,” Alsop said. “We don’t know the extent of the savings, but we do believe it will be more stable than the previous contract.”

Workers are expected complete the switch in the spring when the university can shut the steam supply down for a few days.

The PSC order requires MEA to provide LP Mineral, the company that supplies the waste coal to the plant, six months notice before the coal fired boilers are shutdown. The PSC has also ordered MEA to make “certain reporting requirements.”

LP Minerals President James Laurita testified in November the jobs lost through the contract termination would cost the economy $17 million a year, the same amount Mon Power says terminating the deal would save ratepayers. Laurita believes as many as 40 jobs could be cut at the plant.

“I’m saying $17 million, just those three vendors and the 40 employees, the value is $17 million a year that’s going to be lost just to the community of Morgantown,” Laurita said. “That’s $300 million over (the remainder of the contract). So there’s $300 million that’s lost to the community.”

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New information released about 7th suspicious death at Clarksburg VA Hospital

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Family members of an 89-year-old veteran who died at the Clarksburg VA Hospital in January 2018 have learned more information about his death and there are similarities to at least six other suspicious deaths at the facility.

Tony O’Dell

According to Charleston attorney Tony O’Dell, who represents some of the families, the veteran was admitted to ICU at the Clarksburg hospital in January 2018. After showing some improvement, he was moved to floor 3A.

“It’s the night shift and he suffers a severe hypoglycemic event. The person of interest is all through his records. In fact, I believe she was as one-on-one sitter with him that night,” O’Dell said Friday on MetroNews “Talkline.”

The veteran was not a diabetic. O’Dell said his blood glucose level dropped to 27. He died a few days later.

MORE Hoppy Kercheval’s commentary

The original cause of death was listed as a bleeding stroke but when reviewing the death investigators wanted to take another look. O’Dell said the body was exhumed last September and the cause of death was changed to undetermined. O’Dell believes insulin injections caused the man’s death like it has the other six veterans.

“The government knows, we know and the family knows the cause of death was a severe hypoglycemic event. The only thing that kept them from calling it a homicide was the inability to find the actual injection marks,” O’Dell said, adding the body had significantly decomposed before it was exhumed.

Meanwhile, several of the families of the veterans connected to the suspicious deaths are becoming more and more frustrated, according to O’Dell.

Tony O’dell talks with @HoppyKercheval about new details in regards to the victims of suspicious deaths at the Clarksburg VA. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/LM7BAZyBUL

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) January 24, 2020

“It’s disturbing that we’re 19 months-post beginning of the investigation and really the only information that’s been provided is the information we’ve been able to gather ourselves. It is disturbing,” O’Dell said.

Federal prosecutors and the VA’s Office of Inspector General are continuing there investigations. O’Dell said there’s been a total lack of information.

“There’s nothing coming from the government on what the status is. We are we in terms of either the criminal investigation or the investigation into the hospital?”
The family of the 7th victim does not want the man identified.

“The family is very upset. They’ve been very upset from the beginning. This is a shock. I can tell you the families are becoming very agitated,” O’Dell said.

It’s been reported the person of interest initially was transferred to a desk job, and then was fired after a few months. She was accused of falsely claiming on her resume that she was certified as a nursing assistant.

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Legislature passes bill allowing disabled people to vote by electronic absentee ballot

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia delegates today passed a bill that would let people with physical disabilities vote by electronic absentee ballot.

Moore Capito

The House voted 93-0 with seven absences in favor of the bill. The Senate passed the bill on Jan. 15, so legislative action is completed.

“This is a good bill. It provides more opportunities for more members of our communities to vote,” said Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, the vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Delegate Eric Porterfield, who was blinded years ago in a fight, stood and expressed appreciation for the vote on the bill.

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Eric Porterfield

“It’s my privilege to be a part of being on this bill today,” said Porterfield, R-Mercer.

“I would like to thank the hard work and dedication that has went in to making sure people such as myself, people that are blind, have their constitutional rights put in place here in the great state of West Virginia.”

He continued, “I’m grateful that ableism, is going pushed away from, which is discrimination toward people with disabilities and giving us the constitutional rights that is righted to us with our inalienable rights.”

Delegates overwhelmingly passed some other bills too.

One would create a felony crime relating to drug delivery resulting in death. The crime could be applied to “reckless disregard for the health, safety, and welfare of others.”

Violations could result in jail terms of one to three years.

That bill goes to the Senate now.

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Running back A’varius Sparrow commits to West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia has filled its greatest position of need with National Signing Day on the horizon.

A’varius Sparrow, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back from Orlando, Fla., announced his commitment to West Virginia Friday morning.

IMMA STAY HUMBLE TILL I MAKE IT ❤️🖊‼️ pic.twitter.com/y6KANRZLbq

— A’varius Sparrow (@SparrowAvarius) January 24, 2020

West Virginia is the most prominent program to recruit Sparrow, who also received offers from Rutgers, Central Florida, Colorado State and Middle Tennessee State. Coincidentally, Middle Tennessee just filled its opening at running back with WVU graduate transfer Martell Pettaway.

Sparrow is graded as a three-star recruit by Rivals. His recruitment took off after a breakout senior season in which he rushed for 2,125 yards and 26 touchdowns in leading Jones High School to the state championship game before it lost to state power Miami Northwestern.

The Mountaineers began recruiting Sparrow after their decision to move on from Brooklyn, N.Y. prospect Lamy Constant shortly before the December signing period. WVU was also in heavy pursuit of junior college prospect La’Damian Webb, but Webb committed to Florida State after visiting Tallahassee last weekend.

West Virginia added 18 signees in December. The addition of Sparrow gives the Mountaineers three remaining spots in this year’s class.

Punter Josh Growden, Quarterback Jarret Doege and defensive back Alonzo Addae, each of whom transferred into the program last summer, counted towards this year’s scholarship allotment.

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Ripley man charged in the death of baby daughter

RIPLEY, W.Va. — A Jackson County man has been arrested and charged with the murder of his baby daughter, more than a year after she had been hospitalized due to injuries allegedly caused by her father.

Speaking to MetroNews on Friday, Jackson County Chief Deputy Ross Mellinger said Jeffrey Hoskins, 26 of Ripley, has been charged with first-degree murder and death by child abuse.

Hoskins, who Mellinger said has been in and out of jail, was initially arrested in October 2018 and charged with child abuse by a parent resulting in serious injury. According to Mellinger, the 6-month old child was found by her mother unconscious, not breathing and suffering from cardiac arrest.

WV Jails

Jeffrey Hoskins

The child died at a local hospital earlier this month after being on life support and through investigation and questioning, Mellinger said what had happened became clear.

“It was apparent that the child’s father strangled the child,” Mellinger said. “Grabbing the child by the throat and spinning her in the air while he strangled her.

“Through testing and various investigations there, there were older injuries there in the brain and skull.”

Hoskins had originally told investigators with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the West Virginia State Police that the baby had choked while he was feeding her.

Further into the investigation, Hoskins admitted to authorities that he shook the baby and choked her, and said he had done so more times in the past.

“In a subsequent interview with the suspect, the child’s father Jeffrey Hoskins, he confessed to not only strangling the child but attempting on four previous occasions to smother the child,” Mellinger said.

“Through the medical testing at the hospital, along with the medical opinion of the doctors there, and combined with Mr. Hoskins confession itself, suggests that there were multiple occasions prior to this one here where the baby was smothered and/or assaulted by the same father.”

Hoskins has been incarcerated in the Central Regional Jail since January 7 when he was picked up on another charge. He had been arrested in Calhoun County for this incident.

Mellinger said he is the only suspect in regards to the death of a child but he left the door open to other charges in the case or co-defendants.

Following the infant’s death, a special grand jury was convened to hear the case.

“Nobody relishes the idea of working a murder investigation, let alone one on a six-month-old child,” he said.

“We just have to jump in feet first and give it the utmost attention and respect. Hopefully, things work out in the end with respect to the honor and dignity of the small little girl.”

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Big 12 Power Index: Fight does nothing to shake up pecking order

If your team must start a bench-clearing brawl, make sure none of your valuable players are involved.

Though this is typically a hockey rule, Kansas ended up being fortunate that it also applied to basketball during this week’s brouhaha with Kansas State. Both teams had two players suspended by the Big 12 after the dust settled, but the only impact player in the group is Jayhawks forward David McCormack, who will miss two games.

With the Big 12/SEC Challenge coming on Saturday, that means McCormack will only miss one league game — a loophole that should have been closed. Naturally, that game will be against Oklahoma State, which is easily the most woeful team in the conference.

Thus, the brawl and its aftermath are highly unlikely to have any bearing on the conference title race, of which Kansas is once again squarely in the middle.

1. Baylor (16-1, 6-0) Last week: 1

The league’s best team is officially the nation’s best team as of this week’s AP Top 25. A challenge looms on Saturday, though, when the Bears visit Florida. The O’Connell Center is a tough place for any road team.

2. Kansas (15-3, 5-1) Last week: 2

Tennessee at Kansas would have been an intriguing matchup a year ago when the Volunteers were on their way to a 30-win season. This version of the Vols, currently sitting on the wrong side of the bubble, doesn’t figure to be a threat.

3. West Virginia (15-3, 4-2) Last week: 3

The Mountaineers managed to have their worst and best showings of the season in a 48-hour window. The roller coaster does not figure to head back down against a .500 Missouri squad that’s lost to Charleston Southern. Perhaps this year’s football loss at Mizzou will be fully avenged.

4. TCU (13-5, 4-2) Last week: 6

The Horned Frogs haven’t been worth a darn on the road, but apparently they are unbeatable at home. That remains the case this week as they bounced back from a blowout loss at Oklahoma with an impressive win over Texas Tech.

5. Texas Tech (12-6, 3-3) Last week: 4

Saturday marks a big opportunity for the Red Raiders, who host Kentucky in the most compelling Big 12/SEC matchup outside of Baylor’s game at Florida. The Wildcats have been erratic, losing to both Evansville and South Carolina, but a win over Kentucky always looks good on a resume.

6. Oklahoma (12-6, 3-3) Last week: 5

The Sooners are the definition of average, with no quality wins but no bad losses — they beat who they’re supposed to and lose to who they’re supposed to. But it does mean that Saturday’s game against an equally-matched Mississippi State team could go either way.

7. Iowa State (9-9, 2-4) Last week: 8

The Cyclones allowed 82 points in a win over Oklahoma State, which does not bode well for Saturday’s visit to an actual high-powered Auburn offense.

8. Texas (12-6, 2-4) Last week: 7

Barring a miracle run to end the season, the mood out of Austin seems to be that Monday’s embarrassment against the Mountaineers is the beginning of the end for Shaka Smart.

9. Kansas State (8-10, 1-5) Last week: 9

There’s no question the Wildcats dominated their lone Big 12 win, but this season will be remembered in Manhattan more for what happened in their next game.

10. Oklahoma State (9-9, 0-6) Last week: 10

The Cowboys are still winless in the Big 12, but showed signs of vast improvement in losses to Baylor and Iowa State. Though they’re probably a 4-14 team in the Big 12 at best, it’ll no longer be shocking if one of those wins comes against a team in the top half of the league.

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