HUNTINGTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled to uphold a voluntary manslaughter conviction for a man serving a life imprisonment sentence for being a repeat violent offender.
Keith Dement challenged his voluntary manslaughter conviction, which if overturned could have also thrown out a life sentence for him, which was handed down because he is a repeat offender under West Virginia’s “three-strike” recidivism law.
He had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2004 and was sentenced to 15 years. He admitted he had shot Matthew Medding, his half-brother, in Salt Rock after the man allegedly stole his family’s welfare card, which prompted an argument between the two. Dement had told police he fired warning shots as he ran away and did not mean for him to be struck by a bullet.
After being discharged from that sentence, he was convicted in 2013 of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. Those two offenses, combined with a previous grand larceny conviction, landed him the recidivist sentence.
The defendant then challenged his 2004 manslaughter conviction, stating his trial counsel failed to provide evidence showing the bullet that killed the victim had ricocheted from the ground, which would show he only meant to frighten, not kill, his victim. The attorney’s lack of effort forced him to enter a guilty plea, he alleged at the time.
However, the circuit court rejected his argument and denied the request, which led the defendant to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. In his appeal, the defendant alleged the court erred in stating his counsel made no mistake in advising him to enter the plea and in its analysis that led it to find a jury could infer his intent based on the recklessness of his act.
The justices all agreed they found no merit in either argument made by the defendant.