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Mandt says he will serve if elected in November

HUNTINGTON — After receiving messages of support following his resignation, John Mandt Jr. said Monday he would serve Cabell County if elected to the House of Delegates in the General Election.

Mandt resigned from his seat in the 16th District of the West Virginia House of Delegates on Saturday night after screenshots surfaced of several Facebook chat messages that appear to be Mandt and others using anti-gay and anti-Muslim language while making disparaging remarks about other politicians. Mandt maintains the messages were fabricated in some way.

In a statement from Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, Saturday night, Mandt said he was also suspending his campaign for reelection.

Mandt will still be placed on the General Election ballot, and Monday he said if reelected, he will serve because it is what the people want.

“Honestly, after all the support and phone calls and messages of people that were disappointed I resigned — I’ve got to take that into consideration,” Mandt said. “Hey, we all don’t agree on the same things. Things can be posted, fabricated and posted out-of-context to anybody and anyone.”

Mandt said he resigned as to not be a distraction for his colleagues.

“Our leadership does not need to be put in a position to defend me because they are up for reelection and my colleagues don’t need to be distracted by this,” he said.

Mandt also said Monday he has been made aware more fabricated information may be coming out and he would press charges to the fullest extent if and when that happens.

In the meantime, someone will have to be appointed to serve the rest of Mandt’s term in the House. The Republican executive committee of the 16th Delegate District, which covers portions of Cabell and Lincoln counties, will have 15 days to submit names for nomination to the governor. The governor will have five days from the receipt of those names to make the appointment.

Terms of office for delegates elected in the Nov. 3 General Election can begin on Dec. 1, once the elected delegate comes to the House Chamber to take the oath of office.

Jury begins deliberations in shooting trial

HUNTINGTON — A jury will resume deliberation Tuesday morning in a Cabell County murder trial of a man accused of shooting a Huntington couple along Williams Avenue in 2017.

Quenton Avery Sheffield, 28, is accused of fatally shooting Aaron William Black, 20, and wounding his girlfriend, Sydney Rice, then 21, both of Huntington, at Black’s Williams Avenue apartment.

After four days of testimony by prosecution witnesses, the defense presented its case over an hour-and-a-half period Monday. They have argued Black was a drug dealer with many enemies who would have had reason to kill him. Sheffield did not testify.

In closing arguments Monday, defense attorney Janice Givens said there was plenty of reasonable doubt to lead to an acquittal, such as Rice telling 911 initially she did not know who had shot her and testimony that she did not hear the six gunshots that hit Black ring out, despite being able to hear voices talking before she was shot.

Rice searching for answers after the shooting and questioning people to see if someone else was at the scene that night was also reasonable doubt, Givens said. No physical evidence placed him at the scene, she said.

“Aaron could have let anyone into that apartment. She didn’t see Sheffield come in,” she said.

Assistant Prosecutor Kellie Neal pointed out physical evidence there was to put Sheffield at the scene, including phone data, cab records and, most importantly, Rice’s identification.

If not Sheffield, then who, Assistant Prosecutor Lauren Plymale asked.

“If the defendant did not commit this crime, if it was some other person, why didn’t she say that,” Plymale said. “There’s been no evidence she had animosity toward the defendant or that she had any bias toward him.”

Why did he turn himself in to police hours away from Huntington a month after the incident, she asked.

Givens said he fled Huntington after police named him as a suspect because he was wanted for something he did not do and was scared.

Rice testified last week Black was a marijuana dealer who would usually conduct business outside of his home, but on the night of the shooting Sheffield had told him he was coming over to purchase marijuana, to which Black had agreed.

Rice was falling asleep on Black’s couch and moved to the bedroom to wait for him while he made the sale. She said she heard the men talking while she played on her phone before she heard Sheffield say a long “wow” and Black gasp.

She testified her bedroom door then opened before Sheffield entered and shot her in the head. She played dead until he left and then found Black sitting with his head on the kitchen table.

Rice told 911 she did not know who shot her and initially said she did not see the shooter’s face. She told police who arrived it had been Sheffield, however, and testified last week she had seen the lower portion of his face and recognized it as Sheffield’s, with whom she was acquainted.

She said after the shooting she heard rumors that Sheffield and Black had been slated to start a “mail business” together, but something went wrong and Black was killed.

Givens said there was no proof presented Sheffield had a motive to kill Black or that this business venture even existed.

Sheffield’s grandmother and sister testified Monday that Sheffield had been at the grandmother’s 12th Avenue home during the time the shooting occurred and left about 1:15 a.m. Sept. 2 to go to a friend’s house.

Last week a detective testified Sheffield’s family said they had not heard from him since Sept. 1.

Plymale said Sheffield and his sister had talked more than 200 times since he was arrested. In one of the calls made prior to his trial, Sheffield tells his sister to be on her “A game” and to make sure his grandmother was “100.”

Isaiah Thornhill, who is currently incarcerated, said Rice was very involved in Black’s marijuana sales, despite her denial.

He testified Rice told him after the shooting she heard multiple people in the apartment when it happened. She had told him it was dark in the home and she could not see who had shot him, he testified.

Plymale painted Thornhill as an untrustworthy witness. He is a family friend of the Sheffields. Prior to his sentencing, Sheffield’s mother wrote a letter to a judge in an attempt to get Thornhill a reduced sentence for his crime.

While an expert witness testified on behalf of the defense Monday that eyewitness identification is not always reliable, the prosecution’s rebuttal witness said his theories may explain how an eyewitness could be wrong in theory, it did not predict real life situations, especially in this case when Rice knew Sheffield.

Dr. Timothy Saar, a psychologist, testified memory can be affected by lighting, trauma, cross-race identification and false voice recognition.

Rice could have been focused more on surviving than looking at the face of the person who shot her. This, combined with the bad lighting, could have affected her memory. The woman is white, while Sheffield is black, and his research shows people sometimes have issues with identifying people of another race.

Because Black told her Sheffield was coming over before she went into the bedroom, she could have mistaken the voice talking in the kitchen as Sheffield without knowing it was actually him, he added.

Even the most confident witness could be wrong, he said.

“Just because we think we are right doesn’t always mean we are right,” he said.

Saar did not interview Rice or conduct his own experiments or testing prior to testifying. His information was based on research. Saar said he is unsure of what percent of the time an average person is wrong in making identifications.

Dr. Steven Cody, also a psychologist, countered Saar’s testimony, stating it is human nature to focus on things that stand out. He said much of Saar’s testimony did not account for if you were identifying someone you already knew, rather than a stranger.

Cody said traumatic events typically create more vivid memories, not distorted ones.

“Our memories work pretty well most of the time,” he said.

Cody said he could not know why Rice did not tell 911 Sheffield shot her, but it could be from fear within her own community, he said.

The defense agreed to the stipulation that Sheffield had been previously convicted of a felon, which would make him guilty of being a person prohibited of a firearm if he was found on the other charges.

Defense attorney Bob Wible assisted Givens in the defense at the trial, over which Cabell Circuit Judge Christopher Chiles is residing.

Justice: Trump, White House needed better precautions to prevent COVID-19 outbreak

CHARLESTON — With the White House at the epicenter of a COVID-19 super-spreader outbreak that has infected more than 30 people, Gov. Jim Justice said Monday that President Donald Trump and White House aides should have taken better precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Our president probably should take more precautions. His people around him should take more precautions,” Justice said of the outbreak, likely linked to a White House event Sept. 26 to introduce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

The Rose Garden event and subsequent reception inside the White House was attended by more than 200 people. The event had no social distancing and news coverage showed few guests or participants wearing face masks.

In the days since, more than 30 participants and White House officials have contracted COVID-19, including Trump and first lady Melania Trump, several White House and campaign staffers, at least three U.S. senators, along with several members of the White House service staff and members of the White House press corps who covered the event.

During the pandemic, Justice has repeatedly called on state residents to wear face masks in public buildings, avoid crowds, and practice social distancing and hand washing. While not directly criticizing Trump and White House staffers for flaunting those precautions, Justice said, “He’s got to do a better job of allowing us to protect him.”

Trump has frequently been ambiguous about face mask mandates and, as recently as last Tuesday, mocked former vice president Joe Biden during the presidential debate for his ubiquitous wearing of masks.

During the state COVID-19 briefing Monday, Justice said the White House outbreak should be a lesson to all to be on guard for COVID-19.

“If he can get this, and it can infiltrate the White House, and it can spread through people in our White House ... we’ve got to know we’ve got to be on guard all the time,” Justice said.

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, also said there are lessons to be taken from the White House outbreak.

“What we are seeing from the White House is how quickly COVID can spread in any organization,” he said.

“COVID is ubiquitous,” Marsh added. “It’s everywhere, and so, despite all the measures taken, we have evidence of a spreading event at the White House, and perhaps even at the Rose Garden event, which was outside.”

While Marsh referenced precautions taken by the White House, he did not address the lack of face masks or social distancing at the Barrett nomination ceremony.

Justice, meanwhile, repeated comments Trump made in a Twitter video Sunday, saying, “A leader cannot go upstairs in the White House and hunker down, and just stay there and stay safe.”