Monday, March 12, 2012

Charleston, WV: Man sentenced for killing girlfriend at Taco Bell wants new trial

The man sentenced three years ago for shooting his girlfriend in a dramatic event at a local Taco Bell restaurant now wants to take back his guilty plea and go on trial.

Desmond Clark, 25, of Charleston is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole at Mt. Olive Correctional Center. He pleaded guilty in July 2009 to first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend Na'lisha Gravely.

Clark was in Kanawha Circuit Court Friday, and contended that not enough information was presented previously in court concerning his mental state and the effect of drugs and alcohol on his actions.

He now wants a jury to be able to weigh that evidence. Circuit Judge James Stucky, who accepted Clark's guilty plea nearly three years ago and sentenced him, will make a decision on that request.

But Assistant Prosecutor Dan Holstein, who worked on the case along with Prosecutor Mark Plants, called Clark's motion a "hail Mary attempt."

Holstein said, "He is complaining about the representation given to him by his attorneys, that they didn't look enough into his mental history. But the only evidence he presented of that were records from Wisconsin when he was 9 years old.

"The judge did ask him questions in open court at his sentencing," Holstein said. "He gave that up with his eyes wide open.

"He made a calculated guess that he'd get mercy, and now that he didn't get mercy he wants to try another chance," Holstein said.

Plants requested a life sentence for Clark and said at the time, "This is a heinous, brutal shooting in broad daylight. And he should spend the rest of his life in jail."

At the time of Gravely's shooting, she had a protective court order against her former boyfriend and the father of her 3-year-old child. But police and prosecutors said Clark threw the 19-year-old into his car on the West Side on July 5, 2008.

She escaped the vehicle in the Patrick Street area and ran into the Taco Bell restaurant. Security cameras captured Clark chasing her over a counter. Witnesses said she ran into a closet, where Clark shot her multiple times.

At Clark's sentencing hearing, Dr. Bobby Miller, a psychiatrist who testified on a request from his defense attorneys, said he believed Clark suffered from "intermittent explosive disorder."

Even so, Miller said Clark knew what he was doing when he killed Gravely and had the option to ignore his violent impulses.

Clark was represented at that time by court-appointed public defenders Theresa Chisolm and Rob Catlett. He has now retained attorney Sherman Lambert of Shepherdstown.

At that hearing, Holstein told the judge, "If this case isn't a no-mercy case, I don't know what is."

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