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Plea deal falls through again in Cabell kidnapping, murder case

November 22, 2018

HUNTINGTON - A plea deal against a co-defendant charged with attacking a kidnapping victim and covering up a murder hit a snag again Tuesday when the defendant could not sufficiently state how she was involved with the crime.

Cynthia Renee Bumgarner, 45, started to enter a guilty plea Tuesday to malicious wounding and being an accessory after the fact to murder for her role in disposing of a body after the death of Michael Sutphin and the beating of kidnapping victim Tara Gillispie over a period of days in late December 2017. In exchange, assistant prosecutor Joe Fincham would have recommended a five-year prison sentence.

However, the plea was interrupted Tuesday after Cabell Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell was not satisfied with Bumgarner’s confession of her involvement in being an accessory. Bumgarner’s plea was delayed for the first time last week after prosecution and defense attorneys worked to reach a new agreement on a recommended prison sentence after the original one fell through.

Sutphin died around Dec. 29 and was found days after his death in the back of a van, which was later determined to be intentionally crashed, along Barker Ridge Road north of Milton. Brian Michael “Mikey” Bragg, 30, of Milton, was charged with murder and accused of stabbing Sutphin with a spear-like rod. His girlfriend, Gillispie, was later taken hostage by the group in an effort to conceal the crime.

When asked Tuesday what had made her guilty of being an accessory to concealing the body, Bumgarner said she went to a friend to ask her to assist in hiding the crime.

“When I understood what happened, I went to a friend of mine instead of calling the police like I should have,” she said. ”(I) asked her, ‘They did something really bad and I don’t know what to do, so can you help me?’”

That friend later called police to report the killing.

Farrell said her confession was not what she had been charged with and asked if she had assisted in hiding the body. Fincham also asked if she had assisted in hiding the murder weapon. When Bumgarner said no, Fincham said the deal was off the table.

The malicious wounding charge stemmed from injuries sustained by kidnapping victim Gillispie when she was beaten, burned and threatened by the group in an attempt to get her to remain silent about the slaying.

Defense attorney Steve Cook said his client disputed her involvement in the wounding of Gillispie but did admit she was present at the time it occurred.

Her co-defendant Robert Lee Nance, 39, entered a Kennedy plea earlier this month to malicious wounding and being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to serve a three- to 15-year prison sentence. His wife, Cheryl D. Nance, entered a deferred adjudication and all charges will be dropped if she is able to stay out of trouble until May 14.

The main defendant, Bragg, was charged with murder. His case is still pending and the co-defendants will have to testify against him.

Bumgarner will return to the courtroom next month to discuss how the case will proceed.

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

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