Murder-for-hire trial pushed back

BUCKHANNON – The attorney for a Buckhannon man allegedly involved in a murder-for-hire plot asked for a continuance in Upshur County Circuit Court Friday, saying his trial strategy “had been changed dramatically” by the guilty plea of his client’s codefendant.

Tom Dyer, the attorney for 30-year-old Jessie Lee Heater, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 29-year-old Joshua Oberg, told 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall that he needs additional time to prepare a new strategy following guilty plea of Robert Eugene Siron III, 31, of Weston, on Wednesday in Circuit Court.

Hall granted the motion, scheduling Heater’s trial for Feb. 18, 2014.

Siron pleaded guilty to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter and one felony count of conspiracy to conceal a deceased human body in the death of Oberg, whose body was discovered in a shallow grave along Bull Run Road in a remote area of Upshur County in July 2012. As part of Siron’s binding plea agreement, he has pledged to cooperate with the state of West Virginia in the prosecution of Heater and 33-year-old Rodolpho “Chino” Villagomez Correa, whose trial was continued Thursday in Circuit Court.

West Virginia State Police investigators have testified they believe Correa paid Heater $5,000 to kill Oberg after Correa learned Oberg had become romantically involved with Correa’s wife. Investigators have also stated they believe Heater gave Siron $500 to keep his mouth shut in the days following Oberg’s Jan. 23, 2012, death.

At Heater’s pretrial conference Friday, Dyer asked Hall for a continuance, saying he needed time to review the terms of the plea agreement Siron entered into and regroup because his strategy had been “changed dramatically by the plea of the codefendant (Siron).”

Hall asked Heater if he was willing to waive his constitutional right to a speedy trial, saying he couldn’t guarantee when the trial would be rescheduled – but that it could be as late as the end of April.

“I can’t guarantee when your trial is going to take place,” Hall told Heater. “Since this is a murder case, the court will try to accommodate you the best it can.”

Heater, however, said he wasn’t willing to waive his right to a speedy trial.

“It’s coming up on a year now,” he said. “This will be the third indictment term that it’s been continued. I would like to retain my speedy trial right.”

Hall said Heater had a choice to make.

“Well, you’ve got to do one of two things – you’ve got to go to trial next week or you’ve got to waive your right to a speedy trial,” Hall said. “That’s the bottom line.”

“I would like to stick with my original decision (to retain) my speedy trial right,” Heater replied.

“So you want to go to trial next week?” Hall asked, to which Heater answered yes.

Hall asked Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger if he was prepared to go to trial on the case next week, but Reger said he wasn’t.

Hall declared a recess to afford Dyer more time to talk with Heater about his options.

When court reconvened, Hall said he had been made aware of an Aug. 8 order entered by then-presiding senior-status Judge John Henning following a hearing during which Heater waived his right to a speedy trial.

“The court will find that the defendant has already waived his right to a speedy trial, but I will note the objection of the defendant to the court finding,” Hall said.

However, the judge said he could set a trial date earlier than he had originally anticipated. Jury selection for Heater’s trial will be Jan. 21, 2014, and his trial will begin Feb. 18, 2014, and continue “until it’s finished,” he said.

Heater is being held without bond in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail.

Also in Circuit Court Friday, Hall granted a continuance in the case of Margel Franklin Tenney, 58, of Rock Cave, who led authorities on an overnight manhunt while he was being investigated on sexual charges.

Tenney is charged with three felony counts of third-degree sexual assault, six felony counts of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian, and three felony counts of incest. He is being held in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail in lieu of a $250,000 bond.

The charges allege that Tenney had sexual intercourse with two female victims under the age of 18 as far back as 2009 and that he inappropriately touched two female victims, both of whom were under 18, as far back as 2011.

Hall scheduled jury selection in Tenney’s case for April 14 and said his trial would take place sometime thereafter.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.