BUCKHANNON - The trial of a Buckhannon man allegedly involved in a murder-for-hire plot has been pushed back to July, Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall ruled Thursday.
The trial of Rodolpho "Chino" Villagomez Correa, 33, will begin immediately after jury selection July 28, Hall said during a pretrial hearing in Upshur County Circuit Court on a number of motions filed by Correa's attorneys.
Correa was indicted in September 2013 on one felony count of first-degree murder and one felony count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder 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. His case was originally set to go to trial in December 2013, but was delayed until April.
During Thursday's hearing, Correa's attorneys, Erika Klie Kolenich and Phil Isner, asked that their client's trial be scheduled in the current term of court, despite the fact that Correa has previously waived his right to a speedy trial.
"It's my opinion that it's impossible to have a trial in this term of court," Hall responded. "The court will find that he has waived his right to a speedy trial over the objection of defense counsel."
Hall blocked off a two-week period - beginning July 28 and continuing through Aug. 8 - for Correa's trial.
"That means I'm going to have to bump two weeks of civil trials in Lewis County, but this is the only time I can schedule this much time to accomplish this," Hall said. The judge ordered that Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger turn over discovery to Correa's attorneys on or before May 9 and that Klie Kolenich and Isner provide reciprocal discovery to Reger on or before May 30.
Hall also ruled on several additional motions filed by Correa's attorneys, including a motion to obtain a forensic accountant.
"I think that one of the charges that's been made against Mr. Correa was the allegation that he paid for the subject murder to happen," Klie Kolenich told Hall. "I think it's important for Mr. Isner and I to be able to explore with the assistance of a forensic accountant who knows much more about numbers than either he or I, the nature of his findings and his findings regarding his (Correa's) restaurant (formerly Michoacan Mexican Restaurant on Florida Street in Buckhannon) and whether or not he could afford to do such an act."
Hall granted the motion, noting that a forensic accountant's findings could potentially be exculpatory.
"The court will grant you leave to obtain one (a forensic accountant), but the payment's going to be subject to review by the court," the judge said.
Hall then granted a defense motion to obtain a private investigator before considering another defense motion to secure a Spanish translator for Correa.
Klie Kolenich pointed out that English is Correa's second language.
"Although he speaks it and communicates it, sometimes there are some words he's not familiar with or some complicated matters he's never heard before," she said, adding that the services of a translator would ensure Correa understood all proceedings during his trial.
Reger said that although he did not object to the motion "generally," he believes Correa has a solid grasp of the English language.
"I would note for the record it appears Mr. Correa understands English and has lived in this country for a number of years," Reger said.
In fact, Correa sent Hall a letter demonstrating his proficiency in the English language, the judge said.
"I get mail from inmates and incarcerated individuals all the time," Hall said, "and he rated probably spelling-wise better than the majority of them. I'd probably rate his command of the English language actually better than most people we deal with here in court.
"But on the other hand I think for the purpose of the trial, to make sure Mr. Correa gets a fair trial - there's likely to be expert testimony - and it may be that Mr. Correa doesn't comprehend all the meanings of all those words," Hall continued. "So I'm going to err on the side of making sure Mr. Correa gets a fair trial."
West Virginia State Police investigators have testified they believe Correa paid Jessie Lee Heater, 30, also of Buckhannon, $5,000 to kill Oberg after Correa learned Oberg had become romantically involved with Correa's wife. Investigators have also stated that Heater gave Robert Eugene Siron III, 31, of Weston, $500 to keep his mouth shut in the days following Oberg's death.
At a hearing in December 2013, Siron 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 Oberg.
As part of his plea agreement with the state, Siron has agreed to cooperate in the investigation by providing statements regarding the involvement of Correa and Heater in Oberg's death.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.