BUCKHANNON – The jury found Jessie Lee Heater guilty on all counts in the third and final day of a murder-for-hire trial in Upshur County Circuit Court Wednesday.
The jury deliberated for just under three hours before finding Heater, 31, of Buckhannon, guilty of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, concealment of a deceased human body and conspiracy to conceal a deceased human body. The jury did not recommend mercy in Heater’s sentencing, which is set for Aug. 14.
Police said Heater was paid $5,000 to murder 29-year-old Joshua Oberg on Jan. 23, 2012, by Rodolpho “Chino” Villagomez Correa, 33, whose wife was having an affair with Oberg. Correa is charged with one felony count of first degree murder, and one felony count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in connection with the death of Oberg. Correa’s trial is scheduled in July.
Heater remained silent in court throughout the week’s proceedings until after the verdict was read Wednesday, when he asked Circuit Judge Kurt Hall if he could speak.
“May I address the court, your honor?” Heater said. “I’d just like to speak up.”
“Well, that’s up to you,” Hall said, but then added, “Well, I’m not going to permit you to address the court. You will have the opportunity to at the sentencing hearing.”
Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger rested his case Wednesday morning after calling witnesses for the first two days of the trial. Defense attorney Tom Dyer then rested his case without calling any witnesses.
“The defense does not desire to present any evidence,” said Dyer, who declined to make opening statements during the first day of the trial.
Dyer then immediately made a motion asking for a Rule 29 judgment of acquittal based on the evidence presented by the state.
He said the prosecution was relying on one key witness in their case against Heater: the testimony of Robert Eugene Siron III, 31, of Weston, who pleaded guilty in December 2013 to one felony count of manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to conceal a deceased human body.
Dyer said the state presented no DNA, ballistic or fingerprint evidence. He said the physical evidence presented, which included a gun, two lighters, a pocket knife and several concrete blocks, were only evidence based upon the testimony of Siron, who testified as part of his plea agreement to a lesser charge. Siron was originally charged with a felony count of first degree murder.
“It would be the contention of the defendant that (Siron’s) story is so fantastical and is so fraught with provable deceit… that it should not be accepted as sufficient evidence of guilt,” Dyer said.
Circuit Judge Kurt Hall denied Dyer’s motion.
“Mr. Dyer, I think everything you pointed out deals with the credibility of the witness,” Hall said. “That’s for the jury to decide how much weight to give the evidence. I think a rational and reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty or not guilty.”
In his closing argument, Reger asked the jury to find Heater guilty and to not recommend mercy in his sentencing.
“We’re asking that you not recommend mercy for Jessie Heater,” Reger said. “Jessie Heater didn’t show Josh Oberg any mercy. He left his remains in a shallow grave up at Bull Run (Road). It was discovered six months later. The body was badly decomposed. All that was left of him were remains.
“It’s had an effect on the family. Jessie Heater has shown no remorse to Joshua Oberg, and I’m asking you not to show remorse towards Jessie Heater.”
In his closing argument, Dyer challenged the jurors to question whether or not Reger presented enough evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Heater committed the crimes.
“Keep this in mind, you need to rely on your own recollection of what the evidence is,” Dyer said. “I don’t recall any proof whatsoever that ties this gun to the murder. How does this gun get into this case?”
After the verdict was read and Heater was taken from the courtroom in handcuffs, Dyer said he planned to appeal the jury’s decision.
“When you lose in the worst fashion imaginable, an appeal is inevitable,” Dyer said. “It’s got to happen, unfortunately.”
Reger said the guilty verdict would likely result in a lifetime sentence for Heater.
“We’re glad we are able to get some justice for our community,” Reger said, thanking all the law enforcement officers involved for their work on the case.