BUCKHANNON - A Weston man involved in an alleged murder-for-hire plot pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Wednesday in Upshur County Circuit Court.
Robert Eugene Siron III, 31, pleaded guilty to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter and one felony count of conspiracy to conceal a deceased human body in the death of 29-year-old Joshua Oberg, whose body was discovered in a shallow grave along Bull Run Road in a remote area of Upshur County in July 2012.
Siron and Jessie Lee Heater, 30, of Buckhannon, were arrested after information from a confidential informant led local authorities to Oberg's body.
West Virginia State Police investigators have testified they believe Rodolpho "Chino" Correa Villagomez, 33, also of Buckhannon, paid Heater $5,000 to kill Oberg after Villagomez learned Oberg had become romantically involved with Villagomez' wife. Investigators have also stated that Heater gave Siron $500 to keep his mouth shut in the days following Oberg's Jan. 23, 2012, death.
Siron and Heater were each indicted nearly a year after Oberg's death on charges of first-degree murder and the concealment of a deceased human body, along with two counts of felony conspiracy.
At Wednesday's plea hearing, Siron told 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall that although he didn't kill Oberg, in an effort to avoid being caught, he aided Heater in loading Oberg - who may still have been alive - into his truck before the two drove off.
"Even though I wasn't the one that actually killed Joshua Oberg, I didn't try to stop it," Siron testified. "My co-defendant, Jessie Heater, shot Mr. Oberg and stabbed him. I helped him load the body into the back of a truck and transported it and then we buried the body."
Hall said that mere presence at the scene of a crime doesn't make a person guilty of that crime.
"That might be accessory (to first-degree murder) after the fact Did you know before that either Mr. Heater or Mr. Correa was going to kill Mr. Oberg?"
Siron said he had no knowledge of any such plan - nor did he do anything to assist in killing Oberg.
Hall, who had asked Siron what he did that made him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, said Siron's testimony didn't provide a sufficient factual basis for him to accept a guilty plea.
"What the court's hearing right now is not sufficient to find the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter," Hall stated.
The judge called for a recess so Siron's attorneys, Steve Nanners and Dennis Willett, could have an opportunity to consult with Siron.
After approximately 20 minutes, Siron returned to offer additional
"Me and Jessie and Mr. Oberg went up to Hog Hollow, at which point Jessie Heater shot Mr. Oberg and we went over to my truck," Siron said. "Jessie came over to the truck. At that point, Mr. Oberg started saying 'why?'
"He was still alive," Siron continued. "Mr. Heater then went over and stabbed him."
Siron said the two men saw headlights approaching so they quickly loaded Oberg's body into the back of Siron's truck.
"You helped Mr. Heater leave that scene, correct? A short time before that, Mr. Oberg was pleading for his life, is that correct?" Hall asked.
"Yes, sir," Siron replied.
"So, it's possible in your mind that Mr. Oberg was still alive? In other words, you joined in this act while Mr. Oberg was still alive?" the judge persisted.
"Yes, sir," Siron said. "A truck came over the hill and I helped him (Heater) load the body - Mr. Oberg - into the truck. It was to avoid being caught in the act."
As they left Hog Hollow, Heater and Siron discussed what they should do with Oberg's body, at which point Siron went to Lowe's to purchase a shovel and a gallon of bleach. Then, the men buried Oberg, Siron said.
Siron said he didn't know Oberg prior to the day he died, which began "as a day of drinking" for Siron, who testified that he met with Heater and the two began to drive around. Siron said it had been Heater's idea to meet up with Oberg.
"I'd never even heard of Mr. Oberg before," he said.
Following Siron's testimony, Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger said he believed the plea agreement is an appropriate one.
"After consulting on numerous occasions with law enforcement involved in this and with the victim's father, we believe that the interest of justice is best served by this agreement with Mr. Siron," Reger said. "Obviously, based on the evidence that we've analyzed, Mr. Siron's the least culpable of the three individuals charged in the death of Josh Oberg. Of course, an important component of this plea agreement is that Mr. Siron will cooperate with the state in the prosecution of the cases against Jessie Heater and Mr. Correa."
According to the terms of the binding plea agreement, Siron will serve a 15-year determinate sentence in a state penitentiary on the voluntary manslaughter charge and a one- to five-year sentence in the state penitentiary on the conspiracy to conceal a deceased human body charge.
Siron will begin serving the one-to-five year sentence at the end of his fourth year of incarceration on the 15-year sentence, meaning the sentences will run partially concurrent and partially consecutive.
He has agreed to cooperate with the state of West Virginia by providing statements regarding the involvement of Correa and Heater in Oberg's death.
He will also submit to an additional polygraph examination if requested by the prosecuting attorney's office concerning the disappearance of Luke Stout, according to the plea agreement's terms.
In exchange, the two remaining charges pending against Siron - conspiracy to commit first degree murder and concealment of a deceased human body - were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they cannot be brought up again.
A joint trial for Siron and Heater had been set for Dec. 16 in Upshur County Circuit Court. In the absence of a plea agreement, Heater's case will proceed to trial; his preliminary hearing is slated for 9 a.m. Friday.
Correa was indicted by an Upshur County grand jury in September on one felony count of first-degree murder and one felony count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. He is currently being held in the Central Regional Jail without bond.
Since his arrest, Correa has also faced several federal immigration and firearms charges. He pleaded guilty this summer to a felony charge of being in possession of a weapon by an alien illegally in the U.S., and is awaiting sentencing.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kuba.