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Mental evaluation ordered before killer is sentenced

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A judge Tuesday ordered a Sissonville man who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in July to undergo a psychological evaluation before she sentences him.

"I want to have the benefit of understanding who this is in front of me before I sentence him," said Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey.

Dale Thomas Newhouse, 55, faces 3 to 15 years in the shooting death of James "Jamie" Bryan Shaffer last September.

Newhouse was to be sentenced Tuesday, but after his neighbor and sister testified on his behalf, Bailey sent him to the Northern Regional Jail for a 60-day evaluation.

Bill Forbes, Newhouse's attorney, requested that Bailey give Newhouse no more than five years because of his age, health problems and the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

Forbes said, about three months before Shaffer's death, Shaffer's half-brother, Joshua Snyder, had attacked Newhouse and left him in a coma with a brain injury, according to Forbes.

"They just happened to be related," assistant Kanawha County prosecutor Michele Drummond pointed out, adding Shaffer didn't have any involvement in that beating.

"He took Mr. Shaffer's life," Drummond said about Newhouse. "Due to the nature of the crime and the lack of responsibility and remorse," Drummond asked Bailey to sentence him to the maximum 15 years.

According to police, Shaffer called 911 at about 1 a.m. last Sept. 27 to report that Newhouse had shot him. Shaffer told an emergency dispatcher that Newhouse was standing over him with a 9-mm handgun.

Newhouse was standing outside waiting for deputies when they arrived on the scene, while Shaffer was inside with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, deputies said. Shaffer was taken to CAMC General Hospital and later died.

Drummond previously told the judge much of the case relied on the testimony of Shaffer's girlfriend, Christina Burgess, who was at the home during the shooting.

Burgess told police that she and Shaffer had been staying with Newhouse, who she said drank almost every day until he passed out.

According to police, Burgess said she and Shaffer had left the home the day of the shooting because they were arguing. When they returned, Burgess said the door to Newhouse's house was locked, but he let the couple in.

Forbes said Newhouse only let Burgess in his house that night. Shaffer arrived shortly after and started threatening Newhouse, according to Forbes.

Bailey read a lengthy list of Newhouse's prior criminal charges -- many DUIs and several battery offenses, which all had been dismissed.

"I don't know why he even had a gun," the judge said. "Someone who appeared to conduct himself the way he did and drink the way he did shouldn't have a gun."

When given the chance to speak in court, Newhouse only said, "I need help with my alcohol problem."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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