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Rand man gets life without parole for murder

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Rand man who pleaded guilty to killing his best friend last year after a nightlong alcohol and cocaine binge was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole.

Tremale Leon Straughter, 30, apologized to the mother and family of Harold Donovan "Don Don" Taylor at the beginning of a sentencing hearing before Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey.

Taylor, 29 at the time of his death, was gunned down in his car in Rand on Feb. 14 after he and Straughter got into an argument, according to police. Straughter pleaded guilty in November to murder. He admitted that he opened up on Taylor with an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle, circled the block, then came back to shoot Taylor again.

In all, 25 shots were fired, seven of which hit Taylor.

"Every day I sit in jail and I think about what I did," Straughter said Friday in a courtroom filled with family and friends of Taylor on one side of the room, and his own friends and family on the other. Straughter said he had been friends with Taylor since second grade.

Ed ReBrook, Straughter's attorney, suggested Straughter was so intoxicated on alcohol and cocaine the night of the shooting that he didn't really know what he was doing and didn't understand right from wrong.

ReBrook asked Bailey to take Straughter's condition the night of the shooting into consideration and grant him mercy, "so at least someday he can get out of prison," he said.

But members of Taylor's family weren't buying the argument. Speaking at the hearing, Taylor's aunts said they didn't understand how, if Straughter didn't know what he was doing, he could shoot at Taylor, leave and come back to open up again.

"People who hunt don't kill an animal like that," said Dee Dee Singleton, one of Taylor's aunts.

"Never will I forgive you, or anyone in your family," Singleton said, looking directly at Straughter. "This will be in you head for the rest of your life. That's going to be your punishment."

Cynthia Taylor, the victim's mother, said her pain over the loss of her son seems to be getting worse. "You took my baby boy, and I can't get him back," she told Straughter.

"I really can't say that I hate you," she said. "I can say that I hate what you did. I hate the demon inside you that made you do what you did."

Bailey said she had a tough time deciding on whether to offer Straughter a chance for parole. But she said Straughter had a lifelong history of crime, was a convicted felon in possession of guns the night that Taylor was killed, and left a rift in the community where the shooting occurred.

"I attended DuPont High School, right next door to this community," she said. "We have a situation where families have known each other for generations, forever, who stand divided now."

Bailey said Straughter not only killed Taylor, but dealt a blow to the local community.

"No rules of society have you been able to comply with," she said. She sentenced Straughter to life in prison without mercy, meaning he will have no chance of parole.

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


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