Entangled relationships among Fayette County Circuit Judge John Hatcher, his friends and family and those of murder defendant Larry Hess led to Hatcher’s decision to seek recusal from the case.

Hatcher mailed a letter Friday to the state Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph P. Albright outlining a number of reasons for seeking recusal from presiding of the trial of Hess who is charged with the April 28 shooting death of his son-in-law, Jerry Chesterfield.

Among the reasons stated in the letter obtained from the circuit clerk’s office were:

- Hess, co-director of a Dodd-Payne-Hess funeral home in Fayetteville, has been the Hatcher family’s undertaker for years. “I, and the members of my family, have become friends with the defendant,” Hatcher wrote.

- Hess’ wife was employed at one time as an assistant in the dental office of Hatcher’s brother.

- Hess’ brother-in-law is Mike Parsons, chief magistrate of Fayette County as well as the judge’s friend and colleague.

- Lt. Sam Parsons, of the Fayetteville police department, is the nephew of Hess and a friend of the judge.

- Judy Hess, a deputy clerk for the Fayette County Commission, is married to Hess’ brother. Both she and her husband are friends with Hatcher.

- Brooke Hess Stone, Hess’ eldest daughter, is a member of Fayetteville city council and a friend of the judge.

- Hatcher performed the wedding ceremony for Hess’ younger daughter and her husband — the murder victim.

“I am confident that I am fully capable of presiding in the above-styled case fairly and impartially,” Hatcher stated in the letter.

“However, because of all of the aforementioned, any rulings I might make ... would be viewed by some in a light which might cause the reputation, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary to be unfairly questioned.”

Contacted Monday Albright said he had neither received the letter nor had he been apprised of its contents.

Special prosecutor Todd Houck of Wyoming County explained Friday that the next step will entail the chief justice approving the request and appointing another circuit judge — either active or retired — from another county.

Ben Bailey, Hess’ Charleston-based attorney, entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of his client Friday.

Hess, 55, was arrested May 27 and charged with murder in the shooting death of the 31-year-old Chesterfield. He posted $75,000 bond four days later.

The shooting occurred shortly before 8:30 p.m. April 28 at Dodd-Payne-Hess Funeral. Hess is co-director of the funeral home.

State Police said at the time they were investigating allegations that Chesterfield had a history of domestic violence against his wife, Hess’ daughter.

Almost immediately, the Fayette prosecutor’s office suggested that State Police investigate the shooting because of close ties between Hess and Fayetteville municipal government.

Later, Houck was appointed special prosecutor in the investigation after a judge disqualified the Fayette prosecutor’s office because of personal ties between Hess and the office.

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