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Teen sentenced to life with mercy

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

A Clarksburg teen-ager convicted of setting a deadly 1998 fire received a life sentence Monday for first-degree murder.

Timothy Wayne Jeffress, 16, was tried and sentenced as an adult, but because he is a juvenile the case will be reviewed when he turns 18, Circuit Judge John Lewis Marks said.

Jeffress will serve the next two years incarcerated at the Salem Industrial Home for Youth. The review will take place after his 18th birthday, and will depend on the record he accumulates there, Marks said.

"From here on out, what happens in your case depends on you," Marks told Jeffress. "We'll look at how hard you've tried to change your life. You've made some bad choices. You have some problems and issues you need to address."

In January, Jeffress was convicted of setting a fire that killed Kenneth Carder, 79. Under West Virginia law, an arson that results in death is tried as first-degree murder.

At the end of that trial, the jury recommended mercy for Jeffress. When his case is reviewed in about two years, the court will decide whether to free Jeffress, reduce the life sentence, or remand him to a state penitentiary to complete the sentence.

The recommendation of mercy means he will be eligible for parole in 15 years, Marks said.

Before Marks sentenced Jeffress, the defense called three witnesses, including his mother. Susan Jeffress told the court that she was unable to control her son.

Prosecutors, who asked for the life sentence, called no witnesses, and none of Carder's family members were present, or sent written statements to the court.

Defense attorney's Nancy Ulrich and Greg Elam asked Marks to sentence Jeffress as a juvenile.

Jeffress' case is indicative of problems faced across the country today, Marks said.

"There is a big debate in this country today about what to do with juveniles who commit (violent) crimes," Marks said. "I don't know what the right answer is."

Marks touted state law that allows those under 18 to be tried and sentenced as adults, but still allows for a review at age 18.

"If you're sentenced as an adult, it's not a final sentence," he told the courtroom.

"This gives the court a number of alternatives we don't have for adults."

Last June, Jeffress was convicted of breaking into an unoccupied trailer, then setting a fire to conceal the crime. Nobody was hurt in that blaze. He received four years on the arson charge and one to 15 for the burglary.

Those two sentences will run concurrently with the one handed down Monday, Marks said.

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