A teenager in West Virginia accused of shooting and killing members of his own family will be tried as an adult as he faces four counts of first-degree murder.
Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Ballard on Tuesday issued a ruling changing 17-year-old defendant Gavin Smith to adult status, Charleston ABC/Fox affiliate WCHS-TV reported.
Smith was 16 years old when he allegedly gunned down his mother, 39-year-old Risa Mae Saunders, his stepfather, 37-year-old Daniel Dale Long, and his two younger brothers, 12-year-old Gage Ripley, and 3-year-old Jameson Long.
Smith appeared before Judge Ballard on Tuesday for a hearing to address prosecutors’ motion seeking to have the defendant tried as an adult. Most of the proceeding was closed to the public due to Smith’s then-status as a juvenile defendant, per WCHS.
Multiple sheriff’s detectives and officials with the West Virginia State Police crime lab reportedly testified prior to Ballard ruling that Smith would be tried as an adult for allegedly executing his family in cold blood. Cameras and media were not permitted into the courtroom until after Judge Ballard moved Smith to adult status.
Prosecutors will next send Smith’s case to a grand jury for possible indictment.
Deputies with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 13, 2020 at approximately responded to a call about possible homicide victims at a residence located in the 1300 block of Cemetery Hill Drive in Elkview, according to West Virginia Metro News. The person who called 911 told the emergency dispatcher that they were related to the family that lived in the home and had gone to the residence to check on them because after being unable to reach any of them for several days, Fox News reported.
The caller reportedly found the door to the home opened. He went inside where he reportedly told investigators that he saw three people dead “from an apparent act of violence” before going to a house nearby and calling police. Upon arriving at the scene, first responders discovered a fourth body inside of the home. A fifth person who lived in the house, who was only identified as a juvenile, was relocated following the slayings.
Each victim died from gunshot wounds.
Smith and his girlfriend at the time of the killings, 17-year-old Rebecca Walker, were both arrested in connection with the quadruple homicide and charged with murder.
While Smith is accused of pulling the trigger and killing four members of his family, prosecutors claimed that Walker “did knowingly, unlawfully and feloniously harbor, conceal, maintain and assist [Smith] after [Smith] had committed the murders,” WCHS reported.
Walker in July 2021 reportedly pleaded guilty as an adult to four counts of accessory to first-degree murder after the fact. Per WCHS, Walker’s defense attorney reached an agreement with prosecutors that included her pleading guilty in exchange for charges of first-degree murder being dropped. Judge Ballard in September sentenced her to 10 years in a state prison.
While authorities haven’t revealed a clear motive for the quadruple murder, First Assistant Senior Prosecuting Attorney Don Morris reportedly provided a possible window into the state’s case against Smith during Walker’s sentencing hearing.
In response to Walker’s attorney claiming that his client and Smith were “delusional about their futures together,” Morris said the real motive was selfishness, and he appeared to place most of the blame on Smith.
“Instead of delusional, when you look at the conduct of both of the individuals involved, it’s more of a selfishness than a delusion. It’s wanting to spend time together at the expense of four lives,” he reportedly said. “We believe that the defendant was manipulated to a great extent.”
[image via WCHS screengrab]
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