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Medical question delays murder trial

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Nearly 1,200 pages of medical records convinced a defense attorney to change his strategy and on Tuesday ask for a delay in his client's murder trial.

It happened at a pretrial hearing, minutes before attorneys were set to select a jury in the case of a man charged with using a baseball bat to beat a mentally handicapped victim.

John Laishley, attorney for defendant Edward "Jesse" Dreyfuse, said the medical records have him convinced the victim died from a heart attack on a hospital operating table.

The prosecution argues the victim, Otis Clay Jr., would never have been in the operating room if not for injuries he received in the April 9, 2012, beating. Initial reports said Clay received severe head injuries, a broken leg, a broken arm, three broken fingers and four broken ribs in the beating.

The incident happened at Clay's residence, along Washington Avenue, where an investigator has testified Dreyfuse forced his way inside searching for those who sold him wax instead of $30 in crack cocaine. He picked up the bat and started swinging it, believing the 66-year-old was hiding those involved in the alleged rip-off, according to the investigator.

Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell postponed the trial until July 30. Laishley said the delay became necessary because Farrell ruled the defense must have an expert to get the medical records into evidence.

Laishley said those documents, just reviewed Monday, indicate Clay was conscious and able to sign consent forms when he arrived at the emergency room. His condition then deteriorated to the point of death in surgery, after which Laishley contends the victim was revived only to live on a ventilator that his family later removed.

The defense attorney had vowed on Monday not to seek such a strategy at his client's instructions. Laishley changed his mind hours later based upon medical records he knew about in August, but did not review until this week based on his client's wishes.

Dreyfuse, 46, of New Martinsville, W.Va., understood the change in strategy, Laishley said.

"This guy needs a fair trial," he said. "This is part of it, and I didn't realize it was part of it until I looked at the medical records more thoroughly."

Cabell County Prosecutor Chris Chiles cited a difference of opinion between Laishley and himself as to the records' significance. He did not object to a delay to protect against any future appeal.

"(Laishley) is a good lawyer," he said. "I'm sure he's doing what he thinks is best for his client, and we only want to do this once."

Dreyfuse strongly maintained his innocence at Monday's hearing. He faces a two-count indictment alleging murder and burglary. Two counts of assault during the commission of a felony were dismissed Monday.

Follow Curtis Johnson via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD and http://facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD.