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Killer's sentence reduced to life with mercy

Oct. 13, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The man convicted of killing a 92-year-old woman more than a decade ago received a life with mercy sentence on Tuesday, according to Cabell Circuit Judge Dan O'Hanlon.

The judge granted a prosecutor's motion Tuesday sentencing Jeffrey L. Finley to life imprisonment with mercy. That was a step down from a jury's decision in September 2004 to sentence the convicted killer to life in prison without parole.

The stricter sentence was reversed in November 2006 by the state Supreme Court of Appeals, which ruled O'Hanlon erred by ordering the defendant to appear before the jury at sentencing dressed in orange jail attire.

Finley, 40, was convicted of first-degree murder and two counts of sexual assault in the 1999 rape and killing of Huntington resident Mabel Hetzer. The elderly woman was sexually assaulted, strangled, bitten and forced to drink rubbing alcohol. Her back and wrists also were broken.

The reduced sentence to life with mercy came Tuesday at the request of the Cabell County Prosecutor's Office. O'Hanlon said the prosecution had talked with Hetzer's family, and its members had agreed to proceed with reduced punishment in exchange for not having to relive gruesome details of her death in court.

In addition to the life with mercy punishment, Finley also must serve two, consecutive sentences of at least 10 years in prison for the two counts of sexual assault.

Defendants typically wear dress clothes to trial proceedings to help ensure they receive a fair trial, as courts have found jail clothes carry a presumption of guilt within the minds of some jurors. The issue in Finley's case was that the jurors who saw him dressed in orange had just convicted him days earlier.

Court officials had explained the logistics were complicated. That is because life imprisonment without parole is a question for a jury, and reinstituting that initial punishment would have required a new jury to be impaneled. Those jurors must understand facts of the case and that would have required the full cost of another trial -- not to determine Finley's guilt, but to simply educate the new jury about the case.