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Kanawha slayings down 75 percent since 2008

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Police in Kanawha County investigated seven slayings in 2013, the lowest total in the past several years.

This number is on par with national trends reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which indicated a 1.9 percent decline in murders since 2008.

Homicide rates have dropped by about 75 percent in Kanawha County in the past five years, said Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants.

He attributed the lower numbers to his office's hard stance against repeat violent offenders. Plants said he's gone after the "10 percent of Kanawha County residents that cause about 90 percent of the crime."

"Since 2009, my office has focused on career criminals and removing them from the streets," Plants said. "Over the years, this has had an effect, and law enforcement has done a great job not just being reactive but being proactive."

In 2009, police investigated 22 slayings in Kanawha County. There were 23 in 2010 and 19 in 2011. Plants said these numbers also include police shootings, suicides and accidental shootings.

Two of the seven 2013 cases were apparent murder-suicides, and one slaying, committed in Mink Shoals, remains unsolved. Charleston police investigated only one slaying within city limits, a historic low.

"This has been the lowest it's been in at least 20 years," said Charleston Police Lt. Steve Cooper.

Cooper said the lower rate could be attributed to police targeting areas that are prone to violence. He credited U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin's Drug Market Intervention initiative, which is a partnership with city police aimed at eliminating illegal drugs on Charleston's West Side.

"The murder rate fluctuates and it's unpredictable," Cooper said. "We are just thankful that it was so low this year. We just wish it was zero."

Here are the 2013 Kanawha County cases:

  • On Feb. 10, police said Patrick Price, 34, of Charleston, fatally shot Michael Cassell, 36, before shooting himself. Price allegedly broke into Cassell's home along Red Oak Street in Charleston before the slaying. Cassell had reported Price to authorities for alleged abuse to Price's teenage daughter. Cassell's family said the two men had argued in the past.
  • On Feb. 14, police said Tremale Leon Straughter, 30, of Rand, shot Harold Donovan "Don Don" Taylor Jr., 29, of Charleston, multiple times. Several witnesses told police they watched Straughter shoot Taylor with different types of guns following an argument. Straughter pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in November and faces life in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 10.
  • Police said Dr. Bruce Foster, 52, fatally shot his wife, Marlise Foster, 64, before shooting himself at their home in Cross Lanes on Feb. 18. Foster specialized in end-of-life care and coming to terms with death. Police said Marlise Foster had been diagnosed with cancer in the months before her death.
  • On May 20, Steven Michael Randolph, 25, of Sod, allegedly beat David Lemons, 28, to death inside Lemons' trailer along Darlington Lane in Elkview. Police said Lemons was a known heroin dealer, and Randolph and his wife had bought heroin from him the night before the slaying. Randolph is in South Central Regional Jail awaiting trial.
  • Roy Roger Pittman, 69, of Charleston, fatally shot Brittany Pittman, his 15-year-old adopted daughter, on May 24, police said. Pittman also allegedly shot his 18-year-old adopted son in the leg before turning the gun on himself. He survived the suicide attempt and is facing a murder charge. He is in South Central Regional Jail awaiting a Jan. 21 trial date.
  • Police are still looking for a suspect in connection to the fatal shooting of Shane Patrick Henry, 26, of Charleston. Henry's body was found beside a trash bin on John Welsey Drive in Mink Shoals on June 15. Neighbors reported hearing what they thought were fireworks that night but did not see anything suspicious.
  • On Sept. 23, police believe Kelsey Marie Legg, 20, killed Kareem Howell Hunter, 28, of Charleston, inside her apartment in Marmet. Legg's brother told police that his sister wanted to lure Hunter to her apartment to have him kidnapped there. Two men were spotted at Legg's place the night of the slaying. Police said Legg was later spotted with two men buying supplies from Lowe's in Kanawha City to hide the alleged crime. Police charged Legg with first-degree murder and she is being held in South Central Regional Jail.
  • Crime in West Virginia has declined 4 percent in the past five years while, according to The Pew Public Safety Performance Project, imprisonment went up 13 percent. Experts warn that it's difficult to correlate prison populations and crime rates. West Virginia is one of 10 states with significant imprisonment increases since 2008.

    Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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