WV Supreme Court takes up Raleigh County murder case - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV Supreme Court takes up Raleigh County murder case

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Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Supreme Court.
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The attorney for a Raleigh County man found guilty of first degree murder says a circuit court prejudiced his client by allowing the prosecution to present certain evidence and not allowing a change of location.

Christopher Wayne Bowling, 39, was charged with first degree murder by use of a firearm for the shooting death of his wife, Tresa Bowling.  

Bowling's attorney, Rich Weston, said the court should not have allowed testimony regarding previous bad acts, should not have conducted a public hearing related to statements from the deceased and should have allowed the trial to be moved, according to the brief to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

In a Sept. 10 oral argument hearing before the Supreme Court, Weston took issue with one of the witness statements, where Bowling's wife told a friend, "If I'm shot in my sleep, tell the police it was no accident." Weston said this was highly prejudicial.

Chief Justice Brent Benjamin said there is a "boatload of other evidence" against the victim, saying Bowling pointed the gun and it went off in his wife's face. 

"Let's assume it never came in," Benjamin said. "Why is there not enough evidence for a conviction? Why is this so prejudicial?"

Weston said the statements and evidence of the deceased should not have come in because the only people there that night were his client and the victim. He called the other evidence "dirty laundry."

Weston argued the jury did not receive manslaughter instructions and that the jury would not have reached this verdict if it weren't for speculation and improperly admitted evidence, the brief states.

Weston's brief said the 404(b) hearing, or a hearing allowing statements and evidence of the deceased, was widely covered by the media and was heard by potential jurors before trial.

Raleigh County Prosecutor Kristen Keller said pre-trial hearings are "presumptively public proceedings." Keller's brief stated two jurors at issue made inconclusive statements and an inquiry revealed that neither juror held a disqualifying bias or prejudice.

Bowling's first trial ended in mistrial in May 2011, and the subsequent trial ended in July 2011.

Weston's brief argues the trial court should not have overruled his request for a jury consultant. Weston also argued the trial court did not allow him to present evidence that the weapon accidentally discharged. The brief argues the West Virginia State Crime Lab and a gun expert found issues with the gun.

Keller argued there were "repeated in camera hearings" where the defense's firearms witness testified there was no malfunction that would cause the weapon to accidentally discharge.

In the oral argument hearing, Keller said the gun expert testified there was nothing in the gun that would cause it to go off without pulling the trigger.

"Why are there statements coming in that muddied the water?" Benjamin asked, noting some of the witness testimony.

Keller said the evidence was important to show jurors why Bowling's wife stayed in the house – to show the relationship between both of them.