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Victims unnerved by ruling that could free ’89 killer

 

Herald-Dispatch file photo Stephen Hatfield appears at a sentencing hearing Dec. 6, 1989. He was convicted of killing Tracy Andrews.
Herald-Dispatch file photo
Stephen Hatfield appears at a sentencing hearing Dec. 6, 1989. He was convicted of killing Tracy Andrews.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Stephen Westley Hatfield admitted to killing his ex-girlfriend, shooting her newfound love and a neighbor May 8, 1988, each gunshot part of a 99-minute, Mother’s Day rampage that terrorized victims in Huntington, Chesapeake, and Proctorville, Ohio.

Now those victims sit unnerved by this week’s court decision that dismmissed charges against Hatfield and could set the killer free.

Dr. Dewey Meyers, then boyfriend to murder victim Tracy Andrews, did not mince words Thursday. He called this week’s ruling an injustice built upon a story created by Hatfield, whom he further described as “a very shrewd, manipulative person” and a “homicidal sociopath” without a conscious.

Hatfield’s bullets wounded Meyers and neighbor Roger Cox near Spring Valley Drive. The rampage continued into Huntington and the Ohio towns with two abductions, ammunition thefts from multiple stores and a shootout with police along U.S. 60 east of Huntington.

“This man is truly the most evil person I ever met,” said Meyers, who graduated from Marshall University’s School of Medicine before retiring as a psychiatrist in Syracuse, N.Y. “Now is this the kind of person you want to let out? Do you want to be there when he walks out the door?”

Senior Status Judge James O. Holliday ruled Tuesday the court has no way to conduct a new trial and prove Hatfield, now 63, was mentally competent when he pleaded guilty to murder and malicious wounding in February 1989. His order followed a U.S. District Court decision in 2012, which determined the trial court found Hatfield mentally competent without an adequate proceeding to hear expert testimony from those who disagree. Those experts died years later and with them perished first-hand observations that Holliday believed were critical to Hatfield getting a fair trial.

Wayne County Prosecutor Tom Plymale vowed to appeal this week’s dismissal to the state Supreme Court. He named another psychiatrist who could support a defense theory that Hatfield lacked criminal responsibility for his actions and thus make a new trial of Hatfield possible. But defense attorney Lonnie Simmons disagreed, saying that physician lacked a first-hand understanding of his client’s mental state at the time and his ability to understand right from wrong when the shots were fired.

Simmons acknowledged the victims’ current fears about Hatfield’s potential release, but said he believes Hatfield will present no threat if he prevails over Plymale’s anticipated appeal. He added his client intends to move out of West Virginia to a “very good situation” elsewhere.

“This is legally a very complex procedural history, a horrible set of facts, a tragic case,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has any reason to fear Mr. Hatfield … I don’t know what these people have heard.”

But it’s not what Meyers or the Andrews family heard. They said it’s what they lived through.

Just days before the shooting, somebody attempted to set Meyers’ Volkswagen ablaze at his Franklin Street residence near Spring Valley Drive.

Tracy Andrews’ sister, Penny, then recalled Hatfield calling the family’s house that fateful Sunday. He cried over the breakup, expressed his love for her sister and then spoke to their mom, wishing her a happy Mother’s Day. Hours later he would kill the woman’s 23-year-old daughter.

Hatfield then stole ammunition from a Heck’s store in Proctorville, abducted two women, held three people at gunpoint in a gasoline station, broke into a pawn shop along U.S. 60 and involved himself in a shootout with police soon thereafter.

“If people understood the heinous nature of him and the kind of person he is, this would go national,” Meyers said. “No one would want this man on the street.”

Cox, now 76, of Greenup, Ky., previously lived across Franklin Street from Meyers. He suffered a gunshot to the chest from Hatfield. It just missed his aorta and its slug remains there to this day, a constant reminder with every chest X-ray. He disagrees with any suggestion of mental incompetence, instead believing Hatfield was a jealous man unable to cope with lost love.

Tracy Andrews had lived with Hatfield for four years, before parting ways amid his refusal to marry. Their relationship had endured longer than any of his seven prior marriages to four women…

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