Second judge recuses himself from Younker case
Circuit Judge John Yoder became the second judge to recuse himself from presiding over the plea bargain and sentencing of Donovan Carl Younker last Friday, July 22.
Younker, 28, is accused of aiding Stephen J. Tamburo III in concealing the body of Stephen J. Tamburo, Jr. back in December, 2008.
The younger Tamburo is now serving a life-with-mercy sentence after pleading guilty to murder last December in the shooting death of his father.
Younker, a neighbor of the Tamburos on Shanghai Road,
is alleged to have helped Tamburo remove his father’s body, wrapped in a rug, from the Tamburo residence. The body was dumped in Sleepy Creek Public Hunting Area, where it was found by a mushroom hunter in April, 2009.
For months, a possible plea agreement by Younker has been pending in Morgan County Circuit Court.
Judge Gina Groh, who sentenced Tamburo in February, removed herself from the Younker case due to an unspecified conflict of interest.
Even before that, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely was named special prosecutor in the case because Defense Attorney Charles Trump raised issues about Morgan County Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin’s role in Younker’s questioning by police.
Judge Yoder was assigned the case and all parties were back in the courtroom last Friday morning for a status hearing. Also present were three of the victims’ relatives and an attorney they brought from Baltimore.
Judge Yoder was told that the investigating officer and the Tamburo family members opposed the plea agreement because it required that Younker be released on probation and not serve any prison time.
Games-Neely told the judge that the victim’s family “perceive a
problem” since some district judges are friends with or have
long histories with Defense Attorney Trump.
Judge Yoder said that if this presented a problem for Judge Groh, “I think it’s more of a problem with me.”
He noted that he had known Trump a long time and had served with him in the West Virginia Legislature.
Yoder said he didn’t believe this friendship would affect any of his decisions. He noted that he had ruled against Trump many times in court.
“When you get in a small jurisdiction like this, everybody knows everybody,” Yoder said.
Trump said that whatever happens with the case, both he and Younker wanted everyone to see that it was all according to the law.
Yoder said that to avoid any appearance of conflict, he too would remove himself from the case. He said he would check with other judges in the circuit to see if any were able to take the case.
If not, the West Virginia Supreme Court will appoint a judge to handle the Younker case.