BUCKHANNON - A jury of 12 deliberated for less than half an hour Wednesday before finding a Tennessee man guilty of murdering his aunt.
Howard Clarence Jenner, 29, was found guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder and malicious assault, all felony charges. Jenner did not appear to express any emotion upon learning the verdict. He was remanded back to the Tygart Valley Regional Jail to await his sentencing.
Jenner's defense attorney, Harry Smith III, argued that the jury did not spend enough time deliberating the evidence. Smith asked that the 12 jury members each testify the verdict they reached was true and accurate. One by one, each member of the jury replied "yes."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
Harold Clarence Jenner is cuffed and transported back to the Tygart Valley Regional Jail to await his sentencing after being found guilty of murder Wednesday.
Smith said the jury was "out for 20 minutes," noting there were 49 exhibits of case evidence, 14 possible verdicts and 18 witness testimonies to consider. Smith made a motion to "move the verdict aside."
"I just found the verdict offensive and speedy," Smith told Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall after the jury was dismissed, adding the jury did not ask to hear any of the recorded evidence again.
Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger objected to the motion. Hall said he felt the jury was fair and attentive during the trial. Hall denied Smith's motion and asked that he submit it for consideration as a post-trial motion.
Just before 12:45 p.m., the jury began its deliberation in the case, returning shortly thereafter to ask for a 15-minute break in lieu of a lunch break. At about 1:05 p.m., the jury returned to deliberations. At about 1:30 p.m. a verdict was reached.
Prior to the verdict, the jury heard evidence in the case on both Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, the jury heard the closing arguments of the defense and prosecution.
Smith told the jury in his closing argument he believed there was reasonable doubt that his client could have committed the crimes. Reger argued otherwise, saying the prosecution had provided "a mountain of evidence" that proved malicious intent.
Reger reviewed the evidence presented to the jury. He said the murder victim, Beni Truax, was shot in the back of the spine, which caused immediate paralysis. He said she was also shot in the back of the head, creating an exit wound which caused part of her face to be "blown off."
"He (Jenner) said he was hunting at the Truax residence," Reger said. "He was hunting up there, but it wasn't for game. It was for his aunt and uncle."
Reger also addressed Jenner's claim that his uncle, Sherman Truax, fired the first shots, allegedly causing Jenner to react in self-defense. Reger said Sherman Truax couldn't get the bullets in his rifle and was going to shoot to defend himself.
Smith said Sherman Truax owns five guns and there was no reason that at least one of those could not already have been loaded before the incident. Smith said that of six alleged shots, only two were accounted for by police.
Reger told the jury Jenner initially lied in his police statement, saying he was not at the Truax residence that day. He also pointed out that Jenner allegedly was attempting to report his gun stolen, rather than report that he had shot his aunt and uncle in self defense.
Smith pointed out that about 27 minutes of Jenner's interview with the police was not recorded.
"What you haven't heard is what happened in the mysterious 27 minutes," Smith said, later adding, "What you haven't heard is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt."
Smith said the recording system had never before broken down and hasn't broken down since. He also said the interviewing officer noticed the recorder was not recording part of the interview.
Reger said Jenner's initial story did not change until he learned his uncle survived. The gun was located not far from the Truax residence, Reger said.
"On Dec. 22, 2011, Harold Clarence Jenner got some revenge on what he thought was a wrong committed on him and his mother," Reger said, later in his statements adding, "This is something that had been brewing with Harold Clarence Jenner for quite some time."
Reger said Jenner took a taxi at about 4:48 a.m. on Dec. 18 to Number Five Mine Road near the Truax residence. Reger said Jenner told the taxi driver he was going to work and asked the driver to stay and wait for him.
"He wasn't going to work," Reger said. "He was going out there to kind of case things out a little bit."
Smith said it didn't seem like the actions of someone premeditating murder to leave records of his transportation and actions.
"If Mr. Jenner was here with intent, you need to think about what he did to maintain his cover," Smith said, adding that Jenner bought a gun in his name, left cab records and didn't try to hide his identity with the taxi service or a shooting range where he practiced shooting with the gun. "That's not consistent with trying to hide anything."
Reger said that after buying a gun from Wal-Mart outside of deer hunting season, Jenner went to Jerry's Sporting Goods to practice at a shooting range and become familiar with the gun. He said the video evidence of Jenner at the shooting range shows him pacing back and forth and putting his head in his hands.
"He was thinking about what he was going to do to his aunt and uncle," Reger said. "That's what he was pacing around about."
During the police interview, Jenner said he once lived at the Truax residence until his aunt and uncle threw him and his mother out in 2009, accusing him of planting drugs. This incident, according to Jenner's statements to police, resulted in his mother living with a man who Jenner alleged was abusive toward her.
Smith said Jenner had returned to Buckhannon seeking education to obtain his CPR certification. He said Jenner's mother resided in Buckhannon at the time. He also said Jenner was actively seeking employment at that time.
"From none of those can you confer this was an act committed of malice," Smith said. "In his mind, as expressed in his statement, he was acting in self-defense."
The jury will return today at 9 a.m. to make a decision on how severe they believe Jenner's sentencing should be. Hall told the jury they would decide whether he should "take mercy on Jenner" in the sentencing.