The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 14, 2013

Atwell gets life with mercy for wife’s murder

By Greg Jordan
For The Register-Herald

PRINCETON — A Mercer County man told his victim’s family and  his own family how sorry he was for his actions before a circuit  judge sentenced him Wednesday for first-degree murder and  abduction of a child.

Tracy Lee Atwell, 39, of Spanishburg pleaded guilty May 23 to  first-degree murder with recommendation of mercy and abduction  of a child by a parent. Atwell was arrested in April 2012 after  he murdered his wife, 33-year-old Christina Atwell, and abducted  their daughter, 8-year-old Porsche.

The child was found safe after the West Virginia State Police, Mercer County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies conducted an extensive search.

 During the hearing, Christina Atwell’s mother, Lucinda  Cheresnowsky of Roanoke, Va., presented Mercer County Circuit  Judge Derek Swope with a letter asking him to reject Atwell’s  plea bargain. Swope called a brief recess so Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Janet Williamson could leave the court with  members of the victim’s family and explain the plea to them.

They returned 10 minutes later. When the judge asked if the  family now understood the sentence Tracy Lee Atwell was facing, Cheresnowsky replied, “We’re good.”

Swope sentenced Atwell to life in prison with mercy, meaning he  could be eligible for parole in 15 years, and to a term of one to five years for the abduction. The sentences are set to run  consecutively. As a result, Atwell will be eligible for parole  in approximately 16 years. Atwell will receive 425 days credit  for the time he has served in jail since his arrest.

 Before Swope passed sentence, he said in his experience, people  convicted of first-degree murder with a recommendation of mercy in West Virginia are not granted parole very often. He described one case in which a person was sentenced to life with mercy;  parole has been not granted, and he has spent 28 years in prison.

 “I just wish I could take all this back, I really do,” Atwell  said. “I’m saying I’m sorry to Porsche.” He looked to  Christina’s family and his parents. “I’m sorry to you all. I’m  sorry for my mom and dad.”

 Swope said the state had “diligently prepared” to prosecute  Atwell, and that defense attorneys Paul Cassell and Derrick  Lefler had done “an outstanding job” for their client. Swope  said he was accepting the plea in order to help bring closure to  Atwell’s daughter. Rejecting the plea would mean a trial and at  least another year of legal proceedings. Atwell is still facing  life in prison despite the possibility of parole.

  “I do believe he (Atwell) is remorseful for it, but it doesn’t  take away from the fact that she died by his hand,” Swope said.

 Atwell’s parents declined to comment.

 After the hearing, Cheresnowsky said Atwell frequently abused  Christina physically. The couple had been in the process of  getting a divorce. Porsche is now with members of Atwell’s  family, but Cheresnowsky said she hoped to gain custody.

 Cheresnowsky said she and her family believed Atwell should have  received more prison time. Swope reminded the family during the proceedings that they could address authorities during any  future parole hearings.

 “Hopefully, he will spend his last breath in prison,” said the victim’s brother, Andrew Fokas of Roanoke, Va.