The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


January 24, 2013

Judge recuses himself from murder case

FAYETTEVILLE — Fayette County Circuit Judge John Hatcher has recused himself from a case against a Mount Olive inmate accused of attempted murder and malicious assault after receiving a threatening letter from another inmate at the prison.

Eric J. Riggs, 23, is accused of stabbing Joseph Blackburn at the prison on Aug. 22, 2011. He was scheduled to plea Wednesday, but Hatcher ordered that the case be continued and that a special judge be assigned by the Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

The letter Hatcher received says the author heard that if the judge didn’t allow Riggs and another accused man to plead guilty, a person identified only by the initials “D.M.I.” would “put a hit on him and the prosecutor.”

The other accused, identified in the letter as “Cox,” is apparently involved in a case before Fayette County Circuit Judge Paul Blake. Blake indicated he believes he should not handle the case either, according to Hatcher’s order filed Wednesday.

Hatcher wrote to the West Virginia State Police that though he reads inmate mail “with great skepticism,” he believes the note writer and possibly others should be interviewed by police.

Riggs’s plea agreement, which has not been finalized, has him pleading guilty to the felony offense of malicious assault, with the attempted murder charge dismissed. The violation could result in a two- to 10-year stint in the penitentiary.

The agreement recommends that the sentence be served concurrently to one Riggs is serving for retaliation against a public officer or public employee. The felony crime was committed in Mercer County and came with a one- to 10-year sentence.

Riggs has been incarcerated previously at several juvenile detention centers and regional jails in West Virginia as a result of abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency and criminal cases, according to the case file.

During the discovery process, Riggs’s court-appointed attorney indicated that “it appears that the defendant has a history of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment.”

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