BUCKHANNON – Twenty-sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall on Tuesday granted a motion to dismiss a habeas corpus petition filed by a man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after reportedly hiring two men to kill another man he believed was having an affair with his wife in 2012.
Rodolpho “Chino” Villagomez Correa, previously of Buckhannon, is currently serving out a 40-year sentence on a second-degree murder charge and a one-to-five-year sentence on a conspiracy to commit murder charge stemming from the death of 29-year-old Joshua Oberg in 2012.
According to records in the Upshur County Circuit Clerk’s office, Hall granted a motion to dismiss the habeas corpus filing, which Correa filed more than a year ago Feb. 5, 2018.
A hearing was set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 16, after Correa and his attorney, Jerry Blair, submitted a request that the habeas corpus petition be dismissed.
“I find that the habeas filing on case number 13-F-84 is not within my interests and I wish that this filing be cancelled [sic],” Correa wrote in a document dated Feb. 22, 2019.
Hall granted the motion, meaning the habeas corpus petition will no longer be considered by the court.
In legal terms, a writ of habeas corpus is a legal recourse through which a prisoner or detainee can make the case that she or has been unlawfully imprisoned or detained. It’s also used to make the argument that a state lacks the power or jurisdiction to detain an individual.
Correa – who is currently incarcerated at St. Mary’s Correctional Center in Jail near St. Mary’s, W.Va. – based his habeas corpus filing on three grounds: a language barrier, ineffective assistance of counsel and severity of the sentence.
Correa, who is a Mexican national, said in the filing that because his primary language is Spanish, he was not able to understand court proceedings.
“I was not availed sufficient help to properly understand the charges against me and the gravity of the plea I was offered,” Correa wrote in the habeas corpus filing.
Correa, who is now 38 years old, claimed he was only provided a translator on the date the plea agreement was executed in November 2014.
He said he believed the translator was made available for the benefit of the court, not him. Correa also claimed he had ineffective assistance from counsel, noting his lawyer, Phil Isner, had only visited him four times during the 37 months he was incarcerated in regional jail.
(In addition to Isner, court documents show attorney Erika Klie Kolenich represented Correa during his preliminary hearing.)
The third ground upon which Correa submitted a writ of habeas corpus was the severity of the sentence he was given. When he was sentenced to 40 years in a state correctional facility, Correa said at the time, he didn’t realize that he would be ineligible for parole until 25 years had passed because he was “an alien from Mexico.”
A spate of court filings also show Correa was dissatisfied with not only Isner, but also the two attorneys who had been appointed to assist him with the habeas petition: attorney David Fuellhart and Blair, who replaced Fuellhart May 1, 2018.
In fact, Correa had filed a motion for replacement of appointed counsel (Blair) as recently as Jan. 28, 2019, alleging that in the 272 days Blair had been his attorney, he had not visited or otherwise communicated with him.
Blair himself filed a March 29, 2019 motion to withdraw as Correa’s counsel and appoint a replacement lawyer, noting Correa had filed a complaint with the State of West Virginia Office of Lawyers Disciplinary Counsel against him.
Because Hall on Tuesday granted the motion to withdraw Correa’s habeas corpus filing, no replacement attorney is necessary.
The charges against Correa stem from a murder-for-hire plot in which Correa was accused of paying two men, Jessie Lee Heater and Robert Eugene Siron III, $5,000 to kill Oberg for having an affair with his wife.
Oberg’s body was found in a shallow grave along Bull Run Road in an outlying part of Upshur County in July 2012, and in September 2013, Correa was indicted by an Upshur County grand jury on one felony count of first-degree murder and one felony count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.