Convicted murderer Billy Ray McLaughlin, 53, formerly of Stony Bottom, has been granted a third sentencing trial in Greenbrier County Circuit Court. The third sentencing trial was ordered because a juror in the second sentencing trial is not a resident of Greenbrier County. The new trial will decide solely the issue of mercy.
On December 26, 1994, family members found McLaughlin passed out on a couch in his Stony Bottom home beside his deceased wife, Constance Lea McLaughlin. He was indicted for first degree murder and the trial moved to Greenbrier County. Prosecutors claimed McLaughlin shot his wife four times with a pistol, and once with a rifle. McLaughlin was convicted of first-degree murder in Greenbrier County Circuit Court on May 8, 1996 and sentenced to life without mercy.
During the sentencing phase of the 1996 trial, the jury was incorrectly instructed that, if granted mercy, McLaughlin would be eligible for parole after 10 years when, in fact, he would not have been eligible for parole for 15 years. The error won McLaughlin a second sentencing trial, held in December of last year, in which McLaughlin was sentenced a second time to life without mercy.
“A short time after that trial, it was discovered that a juror, sitting on the trial jury, is not a resident of Greenbrier County,” said Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via. “He resided a ways over in Monroe County. When that was learned, the defendant’s attorney filed the appropriate motion to set aside the verdict and asked for a new trial, on the basis of the law that requires jurors be from the county where the case is being tried.”
Via said the juror’s place of residence recently changed.
“It’s one of those situations where he had previously lived in Greenbrier County, had moved a short distance over into Monroe,” he said. “He still maintained voter registration in Greenbrier, still had some substantial Greenbrier County contact, in that way and other ways. It just came out he was on our juror list, our pool that our clerk maintains, because he was, in fact, not too long ago, certainly was a resident of Greenbrier County and he’s on the voter rolls.”
“I do not think there was anything purposeful about it,” the prosecutor added.
The prosecutor said he will seek life without mercy again.
“The facts of the underlying murder, apparent from the evidence at trial, indicate a circumstance of a murder that compels us, in our view, to seek a no mercy finding,” he said. “If you look at the circumstances that were presented to the trial jury that convicted him, the result, in my view, is that it’s necessary and appropriate to seek a life without mercy finding.”
“The jury’s really given only two options – a finding of mercy or a finding of no mercy,” Via added. “The conviction for first degree murder will stand either way. It’s just a question of life without the possibility of parole or life with the possibility of parole.
A new sentencing trial, scheduled for the third week in July, was postponed due to a change of defense counsel.