FAIRMONT – What began as a Marion County felony murder case could end up helping reshape West Virginia state law regarding double jeopardy.
On Tuesday, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals heard arguments in connection with the deaths of David and Sandra Glasscock, an elderly couple from Farmington who were killed on Oct. 13, 2016 in a crash in front of the Middletown Mall in White Hall.
Karen Villanueva Matkovich, a deputy attorney general argued the petition in front of the state high court on behalf of the state, including Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Freeman.
Charged in the 2016 crash was Ryan Ashley Hubbs of Ohio, who had a prior criminal record. Hubbs ran a redlight on U.S. 250 and crashed into the Glasscock’s Honda CRV killing them at the scene.
About two hours earlier that same day in 2016, Hubbs carjacked a woman named Sara Crum in Weston and fled north through Harrison County until he crashed here.
On Oct. 30 2017, Hubbs pled guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree robbery and later received a 10-to-18-year sentence for stealing Crum’s car and threatening her with a 9-millimeter handgun.
On April 20, 2018, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Patrick N. Wilson threw out Hubbs’ local indictment for two counts of felony murder on the grounds that the indictment would place Hubbs in double jeopardy. Wednesday’s arguments aimed to seek a clarification in state law.
“There is no dispute that the double jeopardy clause, contained in the constitution of West Virginia, provides certain protections to individuals,” Matkovich said. “It provides the protection against multiple prosecutions, subsequent and successive prosecutions for the same offense after an acquittal or a conviction and also provides protection against multiple punishments for the same offense.”
Felony murder is a charge involving a murder that takes place in tandem with the commission of another felony, which in Hubbs’ case was robbery.
Matkovich argued to the court that Hubbs’ case was different and stressed the need for the high court to review it for clarification.
“But this case presents new facts and a new circumstance upon which this court is to conduct that analysis within the felony murder rule,” Matkovich said.
Because Lewis County prosecutors moved quicker than Marion County prosecutors, the lower court ruled that double jeopardy would be in play if the Marion County case went forward.
In a nuanced manner, Matkovich stopped short of admitting that the petition she was arguing “is unlikely to be successful,” but she also pointed out there was a secondary issue the court should consider.
“And that would be with respect to the establishment of appropriate venue for the felony murder charge,” Matkovich said. “In this case, we have the robbery occurring in one county, with one particular victim, Sara Crum. And, the felony murder occurring in Marion County with two different victims, which is a unique set of circumstances.”
Justice Margaret L. Workman interrupted Matkovich and said, “Isn’t this a case though, where, the two counties’ prosecuting attorneys should have conferred and made a decision on how to handle this?”
Matkovich agreed with Workman that that coordination should have been expected. Matkovich also said Hubbs’ brief and the Circuit Court order throwing out his indictment also pointed out how the prosecutors “should have spoken to each other.”
Matkovich went on to say “..but the state’s contention is that there is a need for guidance and clarification with respect to that.”
Matkovich asked that the court “hold that venue is appropriate in the county where the underlying felony offense occurred, as well as in the county that the felony murder occurred, that both counties could bring both charges” and Hubbs not be subject to double jeopardy.
“Well that would be inconsistent with existing law,” Workman interjected. “Are you wanting us to overrule the existing law that says you cannot be convicted of both the underlying crime and felony murder in two separate convictions?”
While stating a measured, yet passionate case for the state, Matkovich admitted that whatever the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals rules in regard to this case, it will not change the outcome for Hubbs.
“The clarification that the state is asking for, in all reality, practical terms, would not change what has happened in the case at hand, but it will prevent the conundrum that we find ourselves in in the future,” Matkovich said.
Again, Workman interjected in an attempt to seek clarity.
“There’s no law right now, is there, that would preclude Marion County from having venue, is there? Had they acted in a quicker manner before Lewis County did?” Workman asked.
Chief Justice Elizabeth D. Walker asked Matkovich a clarifying question regarding double jeopardy.
“The brief submitted by the petitioner makes a double jeopardy argument. It sounds like you are, in very polite terms...moving away from that argument. Is that fair? Are you conceding that that is not a basis for our decision in this case,” Walker asked.
When he took the podium to argue on behalf of Hubbs, Fairmont attorney Matthew Delligatti said that neither Lewis nor Marion County filed both charges – felony murder and robbery – but state law would have allowed respective prosecutors to do so.
“I will say that really, it was an issue of communication in this matter. I know ...I’ve had a great relationship with Mr. [Jeff] Freeman, the prosecuting attorney in Marion County and I know that he reached out on multiple occasions trying to discuss this matter with Lewis County because we had difficulty getting some of the records involved in this case,” Delligatti said.
Justice Evan H. Jenkins asked Delligatti if it was his understanding of the law that Lewis County’s prosecutor could have indicted Hubbs for felony murder as well.
Delligatti said although the two crimes happened on the same day they were not what would be considered “a continuous transaction.”
“There was a two-hour gap between when Mr. Hubbs robbed Miss Crum and stole her car in Lewis County and when he wrecked into Mr. and Mrs. Glasscock in Marion County. He wasn’t in a police pursuit when that occurred. But, I believe that yes, either county have indicted on felony murder.”
“This is what I cannot understand. They’re asking us to clarify that. I think it’s clear that either county could have done so. I’m trying to get my teeth into what the issue is here,” Justice Workman said.”
After the end of the approximate 22-minute argument, Walker said the high court will accept the case and issue an opinion at a future date.