BUCKHANNON - Upshur County Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall sentenced a Tennessee man to life in prison for the murder of his aunt.
Howard Clarence Jenner, 29, was found guilty by an Upshur County jury in April of first-degree murder in the killing of Beni Truax, as well as malicious assault and first-degree attempted murder for shooting his uncle, Sherman Truax. The jury also recommended that Jenner not be given mercy.
On Monday, Hall sentenced Jenner to life in prison without a chance of parole for the first-degree murder charge. Hall also sentenced him to 3 to 15 years for the attempted murder charge, to run consecutively with the life sentence.
"The court is going to do everything to ensure he serves life without mercy," Hall said.
Hall sentenced Jenner to 2 to 10 years for the malicious wounding charge.
The sentence will run concurrently with the other sentences.
Before the sentencing, Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger noted that Jenner gave three different versions of what occurred the night of his aunt's death.
He asked Hall to consider running the sentences consecutively.
Hall also gave Jenner the opportunity to speak before the sentencing.
"No, my attorney will speak on my behalf," Jenner said.
"The jury found he (Jenner) was responsible and he continues to make up these fantastic stories," Hall said during sentencing. "The court believes that Mr. Jenner is a very dangerous person. Even as we sit here today, Mr. Jenner shows no emotion or remorse."
Before the sentence was handed down, Jenner's attorney, Harry Smith, filed a motion Monday for a new trial due to alleged jury misconduct.
Smith called two witnesses to the stand Monday claiming they saw Sherman Truax having conversations with a jury member during the April trial. The first witness called was Elizabeth Grimstaff, Jenner's sister.
Upon questioning by Smith, Grimstaff said she was not allowed in the courtroom during the first three days of the trial because she was a witness. She said during recesses and breaks from the hearing she would head outside the courthouse to smoke cigarettes. She said on her trips outside she would witness Truax having conversations with a woman that she didn't know.
"He was standing with a woman who I thought came from Florida with him," Grimstaff said.
Grimstaff testified she saw the duo speaking several times throughout the trial on breaks. She said she didn't realize the woman was on the jury until the verdict was reached.
"When the jury came out and sat, I realized that she was part of the jury. She sat on the second or third seat on the first row," she said.
Grimstaff also testified she saw the woman discuss the case with another man who was using a cane. She said that man also sat on the jury.
During cross-examination, Reger asked Grimstaff is she could hear the conversations. She said she could not. He also asked if her intention in testifying Monday was to help Jenner or to be truthful.
"I want to be truthful," she said.
Grimstaff testified she informed Smith of the conversations she witnessed on the last day of the trail. She also provided him a handwritten statement and mailed him a second statement. Smith presented both documents as evidence Monday.
Smith also called Jenner's mother, Mary Branam, to the stand. She also testified she witnessed Truax conversing with jurors.
"I noticed hum talking to her before the trial even began," she said. "I thought she came with him from Florida."
Hall said he would not call any of the jurors in to testify on the issue until he saw a need.
"Nobody knows what they talked about," he said. "You have only proven there was an opportunity to influence the jury."
Reger called Laura Queen, the Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney's Office victims advocate, to the stand. Queen said she worked with Truax during the trial and noted he had left after giving his testimony. She also testified she never witnessed him speaking with any of the jurors.
Hall noted Grimstaff and Branam are relatives of Jenner and said he had to take that into consideration. Hall denied the motion for a new trial and proceeded to sentencing.