The perpetrator of a heinous Pocahontas County murder will never be released from prison. In a re-sentencing trial last Monday, a Greenbrier County jury sentenced Billy Ray McLaughlin, formerly of Stony Bottom, to life without mercy for the December 1994 murder of his wife, Constance Lea McLaughlin.
The Supreme Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing trial for McLaughlin because of an erroneous jury instruction in the sentencing phase of his 1996 trial. In that trial, McLaughlin was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without mercy. The erroneous instruction told jurors that, if they sentenced McLaughlin to life with mercy, he would be eligible for parole in 10 years. In fact, McLaughlin would not have been eligible for parole for 15 years.
Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via argued the re-sentencing for the State.
“Our argument for no mercy was the real heinous nature of the manner in which the murder was committed,” he said. “It was a murder, in which the method of the killing was so cold and so brutal, that we felt like, and our argument to the jury, essentially was, that a murder committed with these circumstances could not be deemed worthy of mercy.”
During a domestic dispute on December 26, 1994, McLaughlin shot his wife four times in the face with a .22 caliber revolver, and once in the chest with a .207 rifle. In McLaughlin’s original trial, prosecutors argued that the first four shots did not kill his wife, and McLaughlin retrieved the rifle from a closet to fire the fatal shot to the chest.
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing trial, due to the erroneous jury instruction. In a series of appeals, involving state and federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, McLaughlin sought a new trial on the issue of guilt. Those appeals have all been exhausted.