Gag order set in March's murder trial
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the second time in a few weeks, a Kanawha County judge has barred lawyers from speaking about a high-profile murder case -- this time regarding a man accused of strangling a co-worker to death and burying her in his back yard.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom granted a gag order during Charles Eugene March's preliminary hearing Friday on charges linked to the death of Kathy "Sheila" Goble, whom police say was buried in the back yard of March's Chesapeake property shortly after she went missing in 2010.
Bloom did not release a written explanation for the gag order, but it appears to be based on a motion from March's lawyer that complained of media coverage in the case, and accused law enforcement agencies of releasing prejudicial information against March to the public.
Last week, jail officials said, March tried to kill himself by climbing on a railing in a South Central Regional Jail pod and falling backward about 15 feet to the concrete floor. He was treated at CAMC General Hospital for undisclosed injuries.
On Friday, March was strapped onto a gurney and wheeled into the courtroom for his arraignment. Bloom granted a request for a mental evaluation that might determine if March is competent to stand trial or whether he is criminally responsible for killing Goble.
Bloom entered a not-guilty plea on March's behalf, and set the trial for Dec. 10.
Police arrested March in late April, after his son, who was attempting to fill a sinkhole behind his father's trailer at 12736 Ohio Ave. in Chesapeake, found Goble's remains.
Goble and March had worked together for years at Kelley's Mens Shop.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, March admitted to deputies that he strangled Goble the night she went missing, wrapped her body in a blanket and placed her in a bathtub. He buried her in his back yard the next day, he told deputies, according to the complaint.
The gag-order request, authored by March's lawyer, Richard Holicker, appears to be partly based on March's statement to the deputies and notes that law enforcement officials, including Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants, have "generated prejudicial pretrial publicity by giving statements to the effect that Mr. March is under investigation for other 'missing persons' cases from this area."
Since March's arrest, several media outlets have reported that March might be connected to other disappearances.
"He is innocent until proven guilty. However, generally, when a criminal defendant commits this type of crime, it's rarely the first time," Plants told the Gazette-Mail in May. "These types of crimes are done -- if they have gotten away with it -- over and over again."
The judge's verbal order also placed under seal any evidence placed in March's court file.
Friday marked the second time in three weeks that Bloom issued a gag order in a high-profile murder case.
On July 27, the judge issued a sweeping gag order in the trial of Shawn Thomas Lester, who pleaded guilty a few days later to charges connected to one of the three sniper-style slayings that rocked Kanawha County in 2003.
That gag order, which Bloom issued after Lester gave a jailhouse interview to WSAZ-TV, applied not only to Lester, his lawyers and prosecutors but also to his family members, family members of the victims and hundreds of witnesses.
In his written order in that case, Bloom did not cite legal authority for the order, and he discussed much of the decision during a private bench conference. He lifted the gag order only after Lester agreed to a plea deal on the day jury selection for his trial was supposed to begin.
Reach Zac Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5189.