by Matt Harvey
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
SUMMERSVILLE -- A Nicholas County jury on Thursday decided a Harrison County man should spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole. The ruling came on the one-year anniversary of the victim's death.
Tracy E. Haggerty, 22, of Clarksburg officially will be sentenced probably in late March or early April by John Lewis Marks Jr., chief circuit judge for Harrison County. However, Marks indicated he believes the law requires him to sentence Haggerty the way the jury decided.
The jurors had convicted Haggerty of first-degree murder Wednesday in the death of Joseph F. Cavallier, 31, a 5-foot-9, 123-pound father of two who left behind a young widow. Cavallier was found stabbed to death Feb. 13, 2002, along Duck Creek Road in southern Harrison County. Haggerty and Cavallier had been dishwashers together at the Texas Roadhouse. Authorities have believed robbery was the motive.
Shirley Cochran, the half-sister of Cavallier's widow, was obviously drained after attending the trial each day. "I'm just happy he didn't get mercy," she said. " ... At least I know he won't do it to anyone else. ... I'm just glad it's over, and I think we can put everything to rest." Her father, James Cochran Jr., said he felt the same way.
Marks took the trial on the road this week because of extensive pretrial publicity. But it was learned Thursday the case could have been settled up to the eve of the trial by a plea agreement.
Haggerty already had turned down a chance at a second-degree murder plea in December from then-Harrison County Prosecutor John A. Scott. After the trial, Special Prosecutor David Romano and Assistant Prosecutor Kurt W. Hall said Haggerty was offered, within the past two weeks, a chance to plead guilty to first-degree murder with a mercy recommendation. New Harrison County Prosecutor Joseph Shaffer had agreed to that offer, as well, Romano confirmed.
On a second-degree murder conviction, Haggerty could have been released as soon as 10 years and would have had to serve no more than 40 years.
On a first-degree murder conviction with a recommendation for mercy, Haggerty could have ended up serving life in prison, but would have had a chance to go before a parole board after 15 years.
Haggerty's chief counsel, Nancy Ulrich, is expected to appeal. If Haggerty can get the conviction overturned through that process, it would mean a new trial. Ulrich on Thursday harshly criticized the state's handling of the proceedings. Her remarks came during a hearing in which the jury was not present. Haggerty's former attorney, Traci M. Cook, also had been critical of the state's handling of the case.
But Romano doesn't believe an appeal will be successful.
"I don't think there's any error in the case," Romano said after the trial's conclusion. "Judge Marks did an excellent job." Romano added that the judge "bent over backward" to be cautious of Haggerty's rights.
By its closing stages, the four-day trial appeared to have emotionally worn on some members of the 10-woman, two-man jury. Some of the jurors cried during the reading of their guilty verdict Wednesday evening. Some were bordering on tears Thursday morning as Romano, Hall and Ulrich made their cases for sentencing. And early Thursday afternoon, as their sentencing decision was read in the courtroom, some wept.
The jury, which took 48 minutes to find Haggerty guilty of murder, took an hour and 15 minutes on deliberations for the sentencing stage.
Haggerty appeared stunned as he learned he was to spend the rest of his life in West Virginia's penitentiary system. He cried for a few moments, then collected himself and sat lost in thought for the next 45 minutes as Marks concluded the proceedings.
Hall and Romano presented no witnesses during the sentencing stage. They wanted to bring in another witness to testify that Haggerty had tried to enlist him to help rob Cavallier. But Marks didn't permit the testimony of that witness, since the judge said the state waited too long to tell defense lawyers about the potential testimony.
Ulrich asked for a mistrial on the same issue, but Marks denied that motion, as he had another motion for a mistrial during the verdict stage of the trial. Marks said he would continue to study the law on both matters.
Haggerty did not testify during the verdict stage and did not give a statement during the sentencing stage.
But Haggerty's father did testify during the sentencing stage. He indicated he still believed his son would have had to have felt in serious danger to have killed Cavallier. The elder Haggerty indicated his son had not had conduct problems in school. The elder Haggerty also said he had taught his four children to protect themselves and their family if they felt threatened.
Ulrich also called two family friends, who testified they trusted Haggerty and had seen no indications of violence as he was growing up in the Weirton area.
During closing arguments for the sentencing stage, Romano didn't make a recommendation for a specific sentence. Instead, he told jurors to make up their minds based on the evidence. Romano indicated that deciding the outcome of this case had to be especially tough because of Haggerty's young age.
Ulrich, fighting back tears, spoke for only about a minute in her closing.
She said the trial had been a difficult situation for everyone, including the jury.
"I'm sure you have made that decision," she said. "Nothing I can say will change that. Thank you."
Also following the trial, Romano said the brutality of the crime (Cavallier was stabbed 67 times, according to an expert) played a key role in the jury's verdict and its sentence recommendation. Solid scientific evidence and Haggerty's confession also were important, Romano said.
The lead investigator in the case was Sgt. J.M. Miles of the Harrison County Sheriff's Department. State Police polygraph examiner Sgt. K.M. Streyle received Haggerty's confession.