By Tina Alvey
A Virginia man entered a guilty plea to second degree murder in Greenbrier Circuit Court Monday morning and was immediately sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Thomas Neal Tait, 52, of Waynesboro, Va., pleaded guilty to killing his wife, Karen Santillan Tait, a Philippine citizen whom he married in 1998 and killed in 2002. On Sept. 26, 2002, human remains were discovered in the Greenbrier State Forest at Harts Run; a decade later, the remains were identified as those of Karen Tait.
“We are extremely pleased we could solve this case and bring some sense of closure for Mrs. Tait’s family,” Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via said.
He credited local State Police officers and detectives from the Waynesboro Police Department for their hard work in cracking the case.
“The cooperation we received from the officers from Waynesboro was very nearly unprecedented,” Via commented. “They had stacks of background information about Mr. and Mrs. Tait.”
Thomas Tait fell under suspicion of his wife’s death when his story about her whereabouts fell apart during a Waynesboro investigation centering on sexual assault and pornography allegations. The original investigation resulted in Tait’s conviction last year on 20 counts of possession of child pornography.
Information fed into various law enforcement databases by both Virginia and West Virginia ultimately led to the identification of the remains that were found in the forest more than 10 years ago.
“When Waynesboro detectives realized we had a body at the same time they were wondering where Mrs. Tait was, the case started to come together,” Via noted. “Various experts did their analysis, and in the end, we knew we had a homicide.”
He added, “Originally, it was a sexual assault case, then it turned into a pornography case and finally it turned into a murder case.”
It was no easy matter to bring Thomas Tait to West Virginia to face the murder charges, even with authorities in both jurisdictions eager to see it happen, Via said.
“Both governors’ offices — West Virginia’s and Virginia’s — were involved in getting him here,” Via said.
Jurisdiction was difficult to pin down, due to the age of the case and its evidence, he explained.
“It’s difficult even now — and I explained this to the judge in court Monday — to determine the precise location of Mrs. Tait’s death,” Via said. “Did she die at Harts Run? Did she die sometime prior to that?
“For jurisdictional purposes, the body is here, and we felt — and the judge concurred — that it was sufficient.”
The reasons the state decided on a charge of second degree murder for Thomas Tait were twofold, Via said. The age of the case and its evidence made it impossible to ascertain whether the murder met the legal standards for a first degree charge, he explained.
“And second and most importantly, we had reached an agreement with Mr. Tait where we could define the sentence,” Via continued. “In West Virginia, second degree murder carries a determinate sentence from 10 to 40 years; the judge picks the sentence, and Judge (Joseph) Pomponio accepted our recommendation of 30 years.”
Pomponio further ordered the murder sentence be served concurrently with whatever sentence a Waynesboro City Court hands down later this week against Tait for the pornography conviction.
Via said he expects Tait to be returned to Virginia Thursday to face a Waynesboro judge.
Tait was represented at Monday’s plea hearing in Greenbrier County by Joshua Edwards, the circuit’s chief public defender.
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