WAYNE, W.Va. — Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Tom Plymale is promising an appeal on this week’s decision from Senior Status Judge James Holliday to dismiss charges against a man who plead guilty in 1989 to killing his ex-girlfriend and injuring two men a year earlier.
A new trial for Stephen Hatfield, who has been in prison since then, had been scheduled to be begin as early as this month.
When he was granted that new trial in 2012, a federal judge questioned whether Hatfield’s competency had been adequately determined prior to his plea. In his order this week, Holliday said trying to address competency now would be too difficult because of the amount of time that has passed.
“I would disagree with the ruling insofar as it does not address the fact that he does have psychiatrists available who are willing to render the same opinion that the original psychiatrists were willing to do, on his behalf,” Plymale told MetroNews.
“It’s really not an issue anymore of whether he was competent at the time he entered his plea. This issue is, at trial, can he put forth a defense and can he put forth the preferred defense and his preferred defense was that he lacked criminal responsibility?”
The prosecuting attorney said the answer to that question is ‘yes.’
Plymale said he plans on arguing as much in an appeal he’ll file with the state Supreme Court “as soon as possible.” “At this point, we still have eyewitnesses available and willing to testify, so we can go forward,” he said when asked about the challenges of going to trial with a murder case more than 25 years after the fact.
Hatfield has been serving a life sentence for killing his ex-girlfriend, Tracey Andrews, and wounding her new boyfriend, Dewey Meyers, along with Roger Cox. The shootings happened during a crime spree in May 1988 that crossed state lines and included a shootout with police near Huntington.
His release from Mount Olive Correctional Complex is being delayed to allow time for the appeal.