Jury recommends no chance of parole
BUCKHANNON – An Upshur County jury that found a man guilty of murder this week also decided unanimously Thursday to recommend he not be shown mercy in his sentencing.
Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall told the jury that by not granting mercy to Howard Clarence Jenner in sentencing, he could likely serve life with no chance of parole. If Jenner had been granted mercy by the jury, he might have been eligible for parole after a minimum period of about 15 years.
Jenner’s sentencing was set for 2 p.m. June 30. Jenner will remain in Tygart Valley Regional Jail while awaiting the court’s sentencing. Hall also ordered a pre-sentence investigation.
On Wednesday, the jury found Jenner guilty of first degree murder -in the death of his aunt, Beni Truax -as well as malicious assault and first degree attempted murder, for shooting his uncle, Sherman Truax.
Sherman Truax and his son, Nicholas Truax, were each called to the stand by the prosecution Thursday.
Both said they did not believe Jenner should receive mercy in his sentencing.
“There’s really no words to describe it,” Sherman Truax said. “It’s kind of life-altering. Nothing really that anybody can do or say to try to help you… He (Jenner) shows no mercy for what he did. No remorse for it.”
Nicholas Truax said no words can describe how strongly he feels. After his mother’s murder, he said his memories of her are gone.
“After all that, I couldn’t even see my mother’s face one more time,” he said.
“Clarence has shown no remorse and I feel no need to grant him mercy… Clarence does not deserve mercy, does not deserve the slightest hope of being happy, does not deserve the slightest chance of giving his life meaning.”
On Wednesday, defense attorney Harry Smith III expressed his dissatisfaction with the jury’s verdict. The Inter-Mountain asked Smith Thursday if he planned to file a motion to dismiss the guilty verdict.
“Actually, (we) don’t make any decision on appeal until sentencing,” Smith said. “Obviously, that is a decision that hasn’t been made yet. I was very disappointed with the verdict today and yesterday, but the process doesn’t begin until after the sentencing takes place.
“I’m sure I’ll file some post trial motions,” Smith added later. “I haven’t decided as to what they’ll be and what they’ll say, but I anticipate (filing motions).”
Smith said he will have 10 days after the sentencing entry – signed by the judge – is filed during which he can make post-trial motions. Smith also noted the jury’s deliberation Thursday on whether or not Jenner should be granted mercy was longer than the deliberation Wednesday on whether he was guilty of murder.
Deliberations Wednesday took the jury about 25 minutes total. On Thursday, the jury deliberated from 11:09 a.m. to about 11:40 a.m., took a recess for lunch, then deliberated from 12:58 p.m. to 1:05 p.m.
Both the prosecution and defense called witnesses to the stand Thursday. Smith called two character witnesses: Jenner’s sister and a forensic psychologist who had decided that Jenner was competent to stand trial.
Reger called three returning witnesses to the stand, including Sherman and Nicholas Truax, and also presented new evidence to the jury. The evidence included an Assassin’s Creed Revelations video game found on Dec. 21, one day prior to the shooting, at a local library. He also presented two photos of a shirt Jenner was wearing under overalls the day of his aunt’s shooting, which read, “May God have mercy on my enemies because I sure as hell won’t.”
Regarding the game, Smith opposed including the evidence because a title alone might not accurately depict a game’s content. He asked the prosecution’s witness, Chief Deputy Virgil Miller, if he had any idea as to the game’s content. Miller replied that he did not. Regarding the shirt, Smith said many young people are seen wearing explicit shirts. In both cases, Hall overruled the objection.
Jenner’s younger sister, Elizabeth Grimstaff, testified that although Jenner was upset with his aunt and uncle’s decision to throw him and his mother out of their home, Jenner was not angry at them. She said that in fact, it was Beni Truax who helped Jenner find his birth father, who Smith said Jenner had not known until adulthood. She said Jenner was her childhood role model and was always there for her, his mother and his brother.
About Jenner’s reaction to being thrown out of the Truax residence years earlier, Grimstaff said, “He wasn’t mad. He was upset. He was heartbroken. His heart was broken that his family would throw him out… he actually told me he was blessed for Aunt Beni because she had remembered where his grandfather and father had lived.”
Growing up in the same household as Jenner, Grimstaff said she did not notice any violent tendencies. She said Jenner never partied, did drugs or drank alcohol.
“I’ve never known my brother to be angry,” Grimstaff said.
Dr. Robert Rush, Ph.D., said he not only interviewed Jenner for just under four hours total over a period of three days, but that he sought information about him from outside sources, such as family members and neutral sources such as jail staff. Rush said he conducted four different tests with Jenning and diagnosed him with unspecified neurodevelopmental disorder.
He said Jenner had social issues when it came to communicating with individuals outside of his family, and said there were periods of time when Jenner would “basically space out.” Rush also said Jenner had afflictions which included attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette’s disorder, Asperger’s disorder and schizoid personality disorder.
Rush said Jenner was prone to choosing solitary activities and shows an emotional coldness and detachment to others. He maintains jobs longer when he is placed in a solitary position where he can work on his own, Rush said.
“This is one strange guy, strictly vernacular,” Rush said. “What we’re talking about here is an isolated individual who prefers to be by himself, loses himself in video gaming. An individual who has great difficulty seeing the world as other people do.”
Smith said Jenner was prescribed video games initially as a therapeutic measure. Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger said Jenner was placed in a psychiatric hospital when he was 11 for cutting the hair off dolls.
Reger asked Rush if it was fair to say that Jenner had lied to him about “a lot of things” when Rush interviewed him.
“He was clearly inconsistent about a number of things when I interviewed him,” Rush replied.
Reger also asked him if Jenner had blamed his aunt and uncle for losing his home, and if he had said they needed to die.
“I believe that is correct, sir,” Rush replied.
In his final argument, Smith told the jury why he thought they should recommend mercy.
“The punishment of life without mercy is the worst punishment under West Virginia state law,” Smith said. “This is a horrific crime. It’s a terrible crime, and I’m not going to minimize that in any way, but it is an aberration in his life.”
Reger asked the jury not to recommend mercy.
“This is a horrific crime,” Reger said. “It is one where someone offers the worst penalty and I think they should for that.”
Hall said one of the images of the deceased victim, which was not permitted to be shown as evidence to the jury, was among the most graphic images he had ever seen.