The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 25, 2012

Family seeks ‘justice’ in death

Nearly four months after the death of Beckley resident Chris Saunders, family and friends gathered outside the Raleigh County Courthouse Wednesday demonstrating for “justice” while his mother and father met with law enforcement officials to discuss whether charges could be brought against the person who shot Saunders with a bow and arrow.

Raleigh County Prosecutor Kristen Keller told media after meeting with Saunders’ family, their attorney and detectives that she cannot ethically arrest the individual who shot and killed Saunders with an arrow on June 29. The meeting and protest came nearly a week after what would have been Saunders’ 24th birthday.

“Sometimes there are cases you can close immediately,” Keller said. “Other times, you can’t because there can always be additional information; but, what the evidence from all the witnesses shows now ... even if you have a dispute at one location and you track down or follow your opponent, then that opponent can claim self defense. Especially in this case where the gentleman who used the crossbow was in his own residence.”

Keller added, though, that contrary evidence could come to light.

“Even the attorney for the Saunders family agrees that it would be unethical, completely unethical for me to authorize an arrest in this case at this point because the evidence is, at this point, that the person who fired the ... arrow was acting in self defense,” she said. “These aren’t political decisions and the last thing you want is a coward prosecutor who makes a decision to authorize an arrest in a murder case for political favor. If you do that, you go to trial and you lose.”

Keller said she understands that when a young person is killed in a tragic way, people want to see justice, but she must act within the boundaries of the law. She said she considers the case still active and anyone with information may contact law enforcement or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers, 304-255-STOP.

It’s alleged that Saunders’ death occurred after a fight, in Beckley, for which the police responded. Later that night, Saunders went to a Prosperity home belonging to an individual who had been involved in the fight within the city limits. Saunders was shot with a bow and arrow while at the home, which enables “Castle Doctrine” laws to be considered in the case unless further evidence determines otherwise. The “Castle Doctrine” enables home owners to use force to defend himself or herself if there’s a feeling of threat.

Keller declined to comment about whether Saunders was armed at the time he was shot with the bow and arrow.  

Outside of the courthouse, Saunders’ sister, Chantelle Saunders, was among the other family members and friends holding signs and wearing t-shirts asking the public to support them in seeking “justice” and raising awareness for Chris Saunders’ death.

Chantelle Saunders said her brother was a graduate of Independence High School, played sports and was always a “peaceful” man.

“It’s not going to heal the hurt,” Chantelle Saunders said. “We want to have faith in our justice system. It’s not something we want to be swept under the rug.”

— E-mail: chiggins@register-herald.com

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