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Dismissal of murder, robbery charges sought

October 3, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Although prosecutors and defense attorneys are working together to move a 2017 Huntington murder case toward its November trial date, the defendant’s attorney is seeking to dismiss the case.

Ronald Amory Witherel, 41, was indicted on charges of murder and first-degree robbery in December 2017 after he was accused in the July 19, 2017, slaying of David Ralph in the 800 block of Virginia Avenue in Huntington. The robbery charge stemmed from the alleged robbery of one of Ralph’s colleagues prior to his death.

Several witness statements and what police suspected to be Witherel’s bloody fingerprint placed him at the scene, and police said at the time alcohol might have been a factor in the attack.

He is slated for a Nov. 27 trial date, but his attorney Russ Cook asked Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard to dismiss the case Monday because he said the grand jury did not understand the charge it leveled against Witherel.

Cook said the grand jury was not read instructions on what murder or robbery entails before they returned an indictment. Special Prosecutor Tom Plymale said the jury had been read those instructions earlier during the term they had served.

“The process in Cabell County is to provide them with a book of instructions approved by the court and then read the instructions to the grand jurors once when the murder charge is presented first,” Plymale said.

Cook said the jury should be instructed about the standard of crimes prior to each indictment.

Howard asked Plymale to give him more information about the instructions the grand jury was read by the next hearing.

If the case isn’t dismissed, Cook said he still needs DNA results from evidence taken at the time of the killing — bloody pants and a fingerprint — as well as about 1,200 photographs and contact information for the prosecution’s witnesses.

Plymale was ordered to turn those documents over by Oct. 22.

Cook also requested Monday that the murder and robbery charges be tried separately.

Plymale said he believes the cases are intertwined and must be tried together. Both victims were business partners, he said, and Witherel would have known they had valuable items and cash in their possessions.

“His motive was to receive money and he robbed both of them ...” he said. “We believe it’s part of the same plan and his intent was the same in both cases.”

Cook said there was no evidence of a robbery in the death of Ralph.

The sides will return to the courtroom Oct. 29 for rulings on the motions made Monday.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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