WESTON – Twenty-sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall on Tuesday granted the motion of an Upshur County man convicted of first-degree murder to appoint a new attorney to represent him in the filing of a writ of habeas corpus.
Jesse Lee Heater, 35, an inmate at Northern Correctional Facility in Moundsville, filed three “interrelated” motions in Upshur County Circuit Court, Hall said at a hearing Tuesday in the Lewis County Circuit Courtroom.
The first was to have his current lawyer, Buckhannon-based attorney Thomas Prall, withdraw as his counsel; the second was a motion to be appointed as his own co-counsel, i.e. to assist in representing himself; and the third was a motion for the appointment of a new attorney in the writ of habeas corpus case.
Heater was convicted in June 2014 of first-degree murder in the killing of 29-year-old Joshua Oberg. Rodolpho “Chino” Villagomez Correa, reportedly paid Heater and another individual, Robert Eugene Siron III, $5,000 to kill Oberg, who Correa believed was having an affair with his wife.
Heater filed the original writ of habeas corpus in early May 2017, and Prall was appointed to represent him May 30, 2017, according to court records.
However, on Tuesday, Heater said Prall “obviously had too much on his plate.”
“It [was] two years before he came to visit me (in prison),” Heater said. “I would like to file a motion to request a different attorney.”
Prall said he had no objection to withdrawing from the habeas corpus case; Habeas corpus gives prisoners the right to question whether they have been legally detained as well as the conditions of their imprisonment on a variety of grounds.
Nonetheless, Prall disputed Heater’s allegation that it had taken him two years to visit Heater.
“It was well before two years, and I’ve attempted to do things for him, but we weren’t able to come to any agreement,” Prall said.
Following the hearing, prosecuting attorney David Godwin said Prall and Heater “simply weren’t getting along too well.”
During the hearing, Hall asked Heater if he still wanted to represent himself in part.
“I would like for a new attorney to be appointed to me, but as far as me being co-counsel, I would just like to be more involved in the process,” Heater replied.
Hall appointed Elkins-based attorney David Fuellhart III with Isner Law Office to represent Heater.
“We’ll see how you get along with your new attorney,” the judge said.
According to court records, Heater has raised issues with several other court-appointed attorneys, whom Godwin had subpoenaed to testify Tuesday, including Zachary Dyer, Thomas Dyer and Brian Bailey.
Hall said granting the motion for Prall’s withdrawal and appointing Fuellhart to Heater’s case were the only actions he felt comfortable taking Tuesday.
“I don’t want you to proceed without counsel,” the judge said, saying he would grant Heater and his new attorney, Fuellhart, 90 days to file an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus. Hall said he’d allow 60 days for Godwin to file a response to the petition.
“That’s going to be a little bit of time, Mr. Heater,” Hall said, “so I need you to be patient.”
In reference to Heater’s motion to serve as his own co-counsel, Hall cautioned Heater he’d be held to the same standards as a regular licensed, court-appointed attorney.
“I have to hold you to the same standards as a lawyer,” Hall said, “so, if you forget something or make a mistake and Mr. Godwin jumps on you, you’re on your own when it comes to that … You can’t come back later and claim ineffective assistance of counsel. I’m not trying to influence your decision, but I want you to think long and hard about this.”
Following the hearing, Godwin explained the court would need to determine whether Heater wished to solely represent himself – pure pro se – or utilize a “hybrid” approach, meaning Heater would represent himself in the case alongside a court-appointed attorney. Godwin said the hybrid option was extremely rare.
Godwin also said Heater has one chance at filing an amended writ of habeas corpus, so his petition should be all-inclusive.
“If he wants to raise anything, he should raise it now,” Godwin said.
According to court records, Heater fatally shot Oberg Jan. 23, 2012, and Oberg’s body was later found buried in a shallow grave along Bull Run Road in an outlying area of Upshur County.
Heater was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in addition to three additional one-to-five-year sentences – one for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder charge, a second for conspiracy to dispose of a deceased human body charge and a third for disposing of a deceased human body.