A Barbour County man entered a guilty plea to first-degree murder Wednesday in circuit court.
Thomas Charlie Lee Runner, 46, of Galloway withdrew a not guilty plea he had entered in February, forfeiting his right to a trial. He admitted to committing the murder of his ex-wife, Beverly Anne Runner, overnight on either Oct. 19 or 20, 2011.
"The court accepts the binding plea agreement. And as a result of that, Mr. Runner, we'll allow you to withdraw your previous 'not guilty' plea in this matter for the purpose of entering a new plea," said Circuit Judge Alan D. Moats.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
Thomas C. Runner, 46, listens to Judge Alan D. Moats Wednesday in Barbour County Circuit Court. Runner entered a guilty plea to first-degree murder in the death of his ex-wife, Beverly Anne Runner.
Moats sentenced Runner to life in prison with the eligibility of parole after 15 years.
"It's not a question of entitlement, it's a question of eligibility just to appear before the parole board," Moats said.
Runner also forfeited property he owned. The deeds he forfeited belonged to both him and his ex-wife and were to their house in Galloway and two motor vehicles.
After their divorce, Runner's ex-wife retained the house, but was to pay Runner for his half of the ownership. Runner not only forfeited any claim to the house, but also any claim to payments that remained owed to him on the property. The property forfeited was turned over to the victim's son, Brian Moats.
Runner had broken into his ex-wife's home in Galloway, a home that he had previously shared with her, by removing an air conditioning unit from a window while she was asleep on the couch with the television on.
Runner used a baseball bat to hit his ex-wife repeatedly over the head and continued to injure her body even after her death. The break-in and retrieval of the bat did not wake the victim. The air conditioner was not in the same room where she was asleep.
Runner had been married to her for 11 years and had been divorced from her for a year prior to the murder. They did not have any children together. Beverly Anne Runner had obtained a domestic violence petition against him that expired just three months prior to her murder.
"Mr. Runner had tried to maintain a relationship that Ms. Runner did not desire," Moats said.
The two of them were still living in close proximity. Runner told the court that it was about a quarter mile between the victim's home and where he was then residing with his mother.
Earlier the same day of the murder, Runner had cut himself climbing the fence surrounding his ex-wife's home and entered the home where he stayed to wait for her to return.
An argument ensued between the two and Runner left the home. He returned later that night and murdered her.
Runner verified to the court that the home was locked when he climbed the fence of the property a second time.
After committing the crime, he washed his hands in the bathroom sink at the victim's home and went back to his residence where he washed his clothes. Runner had exited the home the same way he had entered it. He then reported to work at 2 a.m.
Runner admitted that he was a long-term alcoholic, drinking daily, and that he had been drinking before the murder as well as after. He had also taken un-prescribed pain killers.
In addition, Runner told the court that he was on a prescription medication for depression, but that it didn't inhibit his ability to think clearly.
Although Runner had been drinking the day of the murder, he admitted that it wasn't to the point that he was incapacitated, he could both function and think clearly.
Moats asked Runner if when he went to his ex-wife's home to murder her, he knew exactly what he was doing. Runner said, "Not exactly, but yes."
After having been questioned about her whereabouts, Runner later contacted 911 to say that he had gone to his ex-wife's home where he looked through the window and saw her on the floor. He stayed at the residence until officials arrived early that morning.
Officer Brad Miller arrived on the scene first and Runner offered to break into the house, but Miller did not permit the break-in or place Runner under arrest at that time.
"He told me to go home, so I had to go home," Runner said, but he came back later and spoke to a West Virginia State police officer.
He did not at that time admit to officials that he was guilty, but police asked to speak with him to get a full statement. Sheriff John Hawkins brought him to the courthouse to give his statement.
Runner admitted his guilt when Hawkins spoke with him. The statement lasted less than 30 minutes and was video-taped.
"I have never had any concerns with his competency... so he was a high- functioning alcoholic," said Attorney Roger D. Curry of Fairmont. Curry was appointed in October by Judge Moats to represent Runner. Curry had met with Runner about the case at Tygart Valley Regional Jail.
Curry was appointed as special commissioner and guardian to prepare and execute the deed to transfer property titles to the victim's son.
Through investigating and speaking with Runner, Curry came to the conclusion that there was no realistic reason to back down from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.
"I saw no diminished capacity that would in all likelihood back us down from first degree... Even backing down to a second degree, I don't think would do us a universe of good," Curry said.
Family members of the victim and Runner were present at the hearing.
The victim's mother was not present, but three relatives of Runner's and two relatives of the victim, including her sister and son as well as two other individuals, were in attendance.