Alleged murder weapon shown to Upshur jury

BUCKHANNON – Police displayed an alleged murder weapon during the second day of Howard Clarence Jenner’s trial in Upshur County Circuit Court Tuesday.

Jenner, 28, of Tennessee, is facing one count of first-degree murder, a felony, in the death of his aunt, Beni Truax. Jenner also allegedly shot Beni Truax’s husband, Sherman Truax, and is facing one count of attempted murder and one count of malicious wounding, both felonies, according to the indictment.

According to officials’ testimony, Jenner allegedly entered the Truax property, and shot Beni Truax twice outside of her home on Dec. 22, 2011. Sherman Truax testified Monday that he then came out of his residence because he heard gunshots, and Jenner shot him once in the arm.

Upshur County Prosecutor Jacob Reger submitted as evidence Tuesday a hunting rifle, which he said was found in a swampy area near the Truax residence after Jenner allegedly fled the scene. During his testimony, Chief Deputy Virgil Miller, who was the Upshur County sheriff at the time of the incident, pulled the gun out of an evidence box to show it to the jury.

Miller said when his team located the rifle it was covered in mud, but eventually they were able to identify it. They took many photographs on scene when it was discovered, he said.

He said his team searched for additional shell casings at the scene with metal detectors and flashlights, but couldn’t find any beyond the two they found when they first arrived at the scene.

Dr. Susan Venuti, a forensic pathologist who formerly worked at the state medical examiner’s office in Charleston, testified Tuesday that she performed the autopsy on Beni Truax’s body, and determined the cause of death. She described the nature of the injuries, saying she observed two gunshot wounds, including a larger lacerating wound on the outer head, and a wound in the lower back where the bullet entered the body, passing through the spinal column. Venuti said the wound to the back likely occurred first and would have caused partial paralysis if Beni Truax had survived.

“The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and back, according to the death certificate,” she testified.

The prosecution also called Allison Wilson, a medical doctor with University Health Services, to the witness stand. Wilson said she was working at Ruby Memorial Hospital as a trauma surgeon at the time Sherman Truax was brought into the hospital’s care.

She said Sherman Truax was classified as a priority one trauma patient upon arrival, due to a severe injury to his arm that he sustained from a gun shot, as well as the fact that he had lost approximately 40 percent of his circulated blood. She said the injury involved fractured bones in the wrist and forearm and a severed artery, and noted that surgery and a blood transfusion were required for treatment. Wilson also told the court she anticipated, due to the extent of the injury, he would have long-term issues with the use of his hand.

Sherman Truax, who testified Monday, took the witness stand again on Tuesday. Reger asked him questions regarding statements Jenner made in a recorded interview with police shortly after he was in custody. Jenner told police that Sherman Truax shot at him first and he fired back in self-defense. Jenner also said in the interview that Beni Truax was caught in the crossfire.

“Prior to being shot, did you pick up a gun?” Reger asked Tuesday.

“No, sir,” Sherman Truax replied.

“Did you pick up a gun (after being shot)?” Reger inquired.

“Yes,” Sherman Truax responded. “A .308.”

“Did you fire that gun that day?” Reger asked.

“No, sir.” Sherman Truax said.

“And you have no doubt in your mind who shot you that day?” Reger said.

“Not at all,” Sherman Truax answered.

Testimony given Tuesday provided an alleged narrative of how Jenner bought the gun and learned to shoot it – and came into contact with police before the shooting occurred.

Linda Tenney, of Upshur County, testified she was the sales associate who sold Jenner the rifle and ammunition at Wal-Mart. Tenney said Jenner told her he wanted to get a rifle he could use for deer hunting.

Terry Blake, the former owner and operator of T.C. Taxi Service in Upshur County, testified that he drove Jenner – allegedly carrying his new rifle – from the Baxa Motel to Jerry’s Sporting Goods in Lewis County. Blake said Jenner asked him to give him a ride back to Buckhannon later, but Blake denied his request.

Eugene Grayhouse, of Flemington, a former employee at Jerry’s Sporting Goods, testified he assisted Jenner by showing him how to fire his rifle at the facility’s indoor live-fire range. He said Jenner told him he needed help sighting in the rifle and getting it on-target. Grayhouse said when he first examined the rifle, he noticed the safety was off and it had live rounds in it.

Grayhouse said he left Jenner to practice on the range, but noted a security videotape of the range showed Jenner “firing a few shots, then pacing, holding his hands like he was thinking and running his hands through his hair.”

Sgt. Tom Posey, with the Buckhannon Police Department, testified he and another officer responded to a call regarding a suspicious person carrying a gun around Route 33. Posey said when they responded to the scene, they discovered Jenner, who told them he was walking home from Jerry’s Sporting Goods, where he practiced shooting his gun.

Posey said he and the officer gave Jenner a ride back to Baxa Motel. According to additional testimony given in court, this occurred several days before the alleged shooting.

Upshur County Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall began Tuesday by reading a summary of testimony given in a previous hearing by Lt. David Malcolm of the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office. Both the prosecution and defense attorneys agreed to Hall’s reading the testimony to the jury, because Malcolm could not be present in court Tuesday due to medical reasons. Hall said the testimony involved an interview conducted with Jenner after he was apprehended.

According to Malcolm’s testimony, Jenner was wearing a Carhart coverall and walking along Route 20 South when he was apprehended the night of the shooting. Malcolm testified that after 57 minutes of the interview, the recorder stopped working, saying he noticed it had been off for approximately 27 minutes when he was able to turn it back on.

The recording of the interview was played to the court Monday.

The prosecution rested its case Tuesday afternoon and the jury was excused for the day. The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday at the Upshur County Courthouse.

Contact Chad Clem by email at cclem@theintermountain.com.