State Supreme Court rejects appeals of three Morgan County felony cases

by Kate Shunney

On Monday, January 14, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued opinions on multiple cases before them, including three Morgan County criminal cases that had been appealed from the 23rd Circuit Court to the higher court. In all three, the state court justices upheld the rulings in Morgan County Circuit Court related to sentencing, indictments and acquittals.

Jason M. Payne appealed a 2017 order from Morgan County Circuit Court that the court would not reopen a previous writ of habeas corpus in his case.

Payne was convicted in 2008 of the second-degree murder of Keese Bare.

Payne, Vernon Kerns and Jerome Smith killed Bare and burned his body at a Potomac River campsite in September 2004.

In 2017, Payne filed a motion for a new trial based on his receipt of a letter from Vernon Kerns that he wanted to “come forward and clear” Payne of his role in the crime.

The Circuit Court denied the motion for a new trial in July 2017, finding that the Kerns letter “did not constitute newly discovered evidence that would warrant granting a new trial.”

Payne appealed that decision to the State Supreme Court. The justices noted that the letter from Kerns directly contradicts his testimony during the murder trial and therefore lacks credibility.

Justices denied Payne’s motion for a new trial.

Payne is serving a cumulative sentence of 50-81 years in prison for second-degree murder and several breaking and enterings, grand larceny and destruction of property.

Justin E. Hobday appealed his indictment by the Morgan County Grand Jury in 2016 and claimed the Circuit Court was wrong to deny his motion to drop the criminal case against him. In September 2016, Hobday was indicted for first-degree sexual assault, first-degree sexual abuse and one count of cultivation of marijuana. Hobday pled guilty to the marijuana charge in April 2017. Following a jury trial that month on the sexual offenses, Hobday was found guilty of two counts of first-degree sexual abuse.

Hobday appealed his conviction to the state’s high court, claiming that the county’s Prosecuting Attorney changed the date of sexual abuse incident in the indictment document by two days. He also appealed the Circuit Court’s decision to reject his motion for a new trial in November 2017.

On both arguments, the State Supreme Court of Appeals found that the Morgan County Circuit Court made no error and Hobday’s conviction and sentencing stand.

Robert Blake appealed his 2017 conviction for possession of child pornography and four counts of second-offense failure to register as a sex offender. Blake was found guilty of the child pornography offense and three counts of failure to register after a jury trial in April 2017. He was sentenced to 32-75 years in prison for the charges, and has appealed that sentence.

Blake, in his appeal, argues that the Circuit Court should have suppressed evidence against him because it was seized without a valid search warrant. The court found that Blake offered statements and surrendered his wallet to police during a search of the home, and rejected his argument that email addresses in the wallet were not subject to search. Blake did not register all of his email or social media accounts with the West Virginia State Police as required of a sex offender.

State justices upheld the Morgan County Circuit Court’s decisions and sentence for Blake’s crimes.

Opinions were issued by Chief Justice Elizabeth D. Walker and justices Margaret L. Workman, Tim Armstead, Evan H. Jenkins and John A. Hutchison.