UPDATE 4/17/14 @ 7 p.m.
WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) – More than 25 years after a young woman was murdered in Wayne County, her family is speaking publicly about the possibility of her accused killer going free.
Stephen Hatfield pleaded guilty in 1989 to murdering his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Andrews, who was 23 years old at the time. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of malicious wounding for shooting her boyfriend, Dewey Meyers, and another man, Roger Cox. At his plea hearing in February 1989, court records show he told the judge he did not remember hearing any gunshots but saw blood and said, “I’m sure that I shot her.”
Throughout the years, Hatfield has challenged both his conviction and the way the court proceedings happened. A judge has now ordered the dismissal of Hatfield’s indictment and pleas from the late 1980s, and it has left family members upset and angry.
“We don't need to show him mercy,” Penny Andrews Holmes said. “He didn't give any to anyone else.”
Holmes, who is Tracy Andrews’ younger sister, tells WSAZ.com she stood up at Hatfield’s December 1989 sentencing. She described it as “one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.”
“This small, very controlling man had taken away one of the best people that I'd ever known, or that the world may ever know,” Holmes said.
Tom Plymale, Wayne County prosecuting attorney, said Hatfield has been in prison ever since his sentencing but continues to appeal his case. He said his office will file an appeal to this latest court order, so it can be reviewed by the West Virginia Supreme Court. Plymale said he hopes that this case will be remanded to Wayne County for a trial.
“It's frustrating. I mean, I wish we could have resolved it back in '89 when we first had this before us,” Plymale said.
The issue, Plymale said, is not whether or not Hatfield was actually competent to stand trial. Instead, Hatfield’s attorneys have made this a procedural appeal regarding Hatfield’s constitutional rights and whether he was given the opportunity for a hearing about his competence and his criminal responsibility.
“His lawyers were advising him not to [enter guilty pleas], but he seemed to want to and he did enter a plea where he explained in detail what he had done,” Plymale said. “[The defense believes] because the court did not conduct a full evidentiary hearing on the issue of competence that it should not have gone forward.”
Because the case never went to trial and two of the doctors who declared Hatfield incompetent are now dead, the special judge in this case dismissed the indictment and pleas, saying it would not be reasonable to evaluate Hatfield’s mental state retroactively and that because of the amount of time since this happened, Hatfield’s constitutional rights have already been infringed upon.
Richard Andrews, Tracy’s father, said he hopes Hatfield will not be released from prison. The court order indicates that when the appeals period expires, Hatfield would be released from prison.
“It's miserable. If you've never lost a kid, you don't understand it,” Andrews said. “I don't think it'll ever be any better than what it is now, but if he gets out, it'd be a lot worse.”
The case has spanned nearly the length of Plymale’s career as a prosecutor in Wayne County, and he says the appeals have prolonged an already difficult case.
“These people have gone through horrendous traumas, you know, physically, mentally,” Plymale said.
Holmes said she wishes Hatfield would stop filing appeals and let her family heal.
“It's like reliving the entire thing again, every time this happens,” Holmes said.
WSAZ.com also spoke over the phone Thursday with Dewey Meyers, Andrews’ boyfriend who was shot by Hatfield in May 1988 when Andrews was murdered. He said that he lives in fear that if Hatfield goes free, he will come after Meyers and kill him.
Meyers has worked as a psychiatrist for much of his career and said he has worked with numerous serial killers and murderers. He says Hatfield’s actions were planned out and cold and that he considers him a sociopath who would be a danger to anyone in the country, not just in Wayne County.
Richard Andrews said he simply hopes Hatfield stays in prison.
“It just brings it all back up, more or less,” Andrews said. “It'd be best if you knew he was going to stay there [in prison] for the rest of his life like he was supposed to.”
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.
Stephen W. Hatfield pleaded guilty to killing his ex-girlfriend Tracy Andrews at her home on Mother's Day in 1988.
He also pleaded guilty to two counts of malicious wounding for shooting Dewey Meyers, who was Andrews' then boyfriend, as well as her neighbor, Roger Cox.
Following the shooting, Hatfield fled the scene and was arrested after being shot by police, according to legal documents.
In February 1989, the day his trial was supposed to start, Hatfield pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced in December 1989 to life without mercy for the murder, and two 2-10 year sentences for the malicious wounding charges.
After a number of appeals, in July 2012, a U.S. District Court Judge set aside Hatfield's conviction over competency issues.
According to this week's order, the judge determined there is no way to prove Hatfield was mentally competent when he pleaded guilty.
Since the time of the 2012 decision, two doctors and three witnesses who originally testified in the case have passed away. Due to this, the judge found that a new trial would be impossible, 25 years after the plea took place, as well as determining Hatfield's competency at the time he made the plea.
According to the order, Hatfield could be released from the Mount Olive Correctional Complex, where he is being held. But, that has been delayed so the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office can appeal the decision. Wayne County Prosecutor Tom Plymale tells WSAZ.com that he does plan to appeal the decision.