CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A federal jury today convicted two Mingo County residents on all charges linking them to a drug informant's 2005 murder.
The U-S District Court jury in Charleston must now decide whether to level the death penalty against George "Porgy" Lecco and Valerie Suzette Friend.
Two of the charges against each stemmed from the April 2005 killing of Carla Collins.
Carla Collins' family is finally feeling some relief. A federal jury in Charleston Friday afternoon convicted George "Porgy" Lecco and Valerie Friend of plotting and carrying out Collins' murder: taking a life to protect an extensive Mingo County drug ring.
The jury found that the 33-year-old Mingo County resident was shot and beaten to death by Friend on orders from Lecco to protect a cocaine ring he ran out of a Red Jacket drive-thru pizza parlor.
Judge John Copenhaver Junior asked the jury of eight women and four men to return Tuesday to begin the case's penalty phase.
Although West Virginia abolished capital punishment for state crimes in 1965, it remains an option in federal cases. Three such cases have been pursued in West Virginia in the past decade. Each was resolved without a death sentence.
Besides an additional drug conspiracy count against each, Lecco was also found guilty on ten drug-selling and weapons-related charges.
"She'll never leave my heart. Her spirit will live on in my heart. I see her in her children, so that's something."
That's all Tina Collins has left of her daughter. Carla Collins was just 33 years old when she went missing in April of 2005. Two long months later, her body was found buried in a shallow grave.
The trail leading to just who put her there took many turns: numerous people were arrested, and several pleaded guilty. In the end, just two suspects were left to stand trial: George "Porgy" Lecco and Valerie Friend.
Lecco was the manager of the Pizza Plus in Red Jacket, where Carla and people she thought were her friends used to hang out, a place where cocaine was served up as much as pepperoni. A federal jury agreed that when Lecco learned Carla Collins had been talking to the feds, he ordered her murder to protect that drug operation, and that Valerie Friend carried out the killing.
Tina Collins says this was a day of reckoning for Carla, a day of justice. She's thankful for people who worked to bring justice.
"It can't bring her back but it can certainly have justice and we have that now."
Tina and Alvin Collins have one more legal step to get through: the penalty phase where the jury will decide whether Lecco and Friend should be put to death.