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Nicholas County man pleads guilty to killing family of four

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A man accused of gunning down an entire family in Nicholas County last year pleaded guilty to four counts of murder Wednesday.

James Roy Belknap, 26, of Leivasy, agreed to plead guilty to the shooting deaths of Stephen Leroy Hendrix, 38; his girlfriend, Amber Martin, 26; and Hendrix's two children in an attempt to get charges dropped against two other people, according to Nicholas County Prosecuting Attorney P.K. Milam.

"He pled straight-up to all the charges," Milam said. "He got nothing out of it for himself."

Authorities believe on May 19, 2012, Hendrix drove Martin and his children -- 6-year-old Dakota and 4-year-old Kaylee -- to Belknap's home on White Buck Knob to try to collect on a drug debt, according to court records. Hendrix and Belknap had been arguing over the debt for weeks.

Belknap then gunned down Hendrix and his entire family inside Hendrix's van before stripping them of their clothing and dumping their bodies over a mountainside near his home, according to police. The van was later found at an old railroad grade near Carl.

Belknap was arrested at a police checkpoint near Carl May 28 while riding in a Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck driven by Mark Haynes, 54, of Leivasy. Haynes was later charged with being an accessory after the fact to the Hendrix family murders and obstruction of justice.

Wanda Alice Einstein, 48, of Summersville, was also charged with four felony counts of being an accessory after the fact for giving Belknap a ride on May 26, even though she allegedly knew police were searching for Belknap. Milam said Einstein later pleaded guilty to accessory charges.

With his guilty plea, Belknap hoped to get charges dropped against Haynes and against Carrie Nelson, his girlfriend at the time, who also gave him a ride before he was caught.

Milam said charges will be dropped against the two.

"All they did was give him a ride," the prosecutor said. "One was about five miles and the other was about 500 feet."

Belknap was scheduled to stand trial later this month. The surprise plea deal came at what was supposed to be an evidentiary hearing, Milam said.

"We didn't think he would plead guilty to all four murders," he said. "He couldn't have done worse if it had gone to trial."

Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 28.

State Police Sgt. D.A. Evans, who investigated the murders, said the bodies of Hendrix, Martin and the children were found days after the killings.

"They were all stripped naked and laid in a pile up on the mountain," he said. "It was the worst thing I've ever seen.

"When you're looking at a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old in the state they were in, knowing what had happened, it's not anything you could ever fathom," he said. "There's no way this will ever be forgotten by anyone involved. It was a horrible crime scene and a horrendous crime."

In 2007, Belknap pleaded guilty to conspiracy after prosecutors agreed to drop a murder charge in connection with the 2005 killing of Richard Parnell, 24, of Summersville.

Belknap was accused of conspiring with his father, Kenneth M. Belknap, 62, of having Parnell buy cocaine for them.

When Parnell didn't come back with the right amount of cocaine, James Belknap took Parnell to his father's house. Authorities said the elder Belknap then took Parnell into the woods, shot him and burned the body.

Kenneth Belknap is serving a life sentence for Parnell's murder. During court proceedings, he said his son did not take part in the shooting.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

 


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