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Ashcraft trial opens today

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

SUTTON -- Jury selection will begin today in Braxton County Circuit Court for the trial of a Harrison County man accused of shooting to death his ex-wife and her friend in Clarksburg on June 5, 1999.

Brian Evert Ashcraft is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, wanton endangerment and carrying a concealed weapon. He is accused of shooting to death Heather Csutoros Ashcraft and J.T. Honce.

Ashcraft is being defended by Clarksburg attorneys Jerald Jones and Thomas Dyer. Harrison County Prosecutor Edmund Matko is handling the case, according to Harrison County Circuit Court documents, along with assistant prosecutor Larry Fry.

Police have said Brian Ashcraft went to Heather Ashcraft's home at 237 Buena Vista Ave. about 7:30 p.m. June 5. He arrived as Heather Ashcraft and Honce were preparing to leave on a date, police have said.

Ashcraft allegedly shot Honce once in the chest with a 9 mm handgun as Honce stood in the living room of the home. Police say he then confronted his ex-wife and shot her four times. Heather Ashcraft died on the front lawn of the home as she cradled her then 5-year-old daughter, who is now in the custody of Heather Ashcraft's mother and stepfather, according to officials.

Brian Ashcraft has been held in the Harrison County Correctional Center without bond since his arrest at the scene.

Police said he called Heather Ashcraft's mother, who lived nearby, just minutes after the shooting and then called 911. He was arrested by Clarksburg police at the house.

The case was set to begin today in Harrison County, but Circuit Judge John Marks Jr. ruled Thursday to move the trial out of the county.

At a Sept. 11 hearing, Jones and Dyer renewed an earlier motion for a change of venue, according to court documents. They submitted a survey of Harrison County residents, additional newspaper articles and videos of television news broadcasts concerning the case.

Marks asked prosecutors to submit a copy of a petition circulating throughout Harrison County that contained signatures of people who "indicated a belief that the defendant had committed a heinous crime and should be punished to the maximum extent of the law," according to court documents.

Matko and Frye withdrew their objection to a change of venue on Thursday, court records show.

Based on the petition, which contained more than 1,000 signatures, the results of the survey and the "extensive media coverage," Marks ruled that "there is a reasonable likelihood that the defendant cannot obtain a fair trial in Harrison County," according to court records.

Jury selection is expected to take most, if not all, of today, Dyer said.

Officials hope to get a jury pool of about 35 people, said Braxton County Deputy Circuit Clerk Sharon Lemon.

"We didn't know we were getting this trial until last Thursday, so we're not sure about how many we may get," she said. "We already had some and we drew some additional jurors."

According to Dyer, before any evidence is presented, jurors will travel to Clarksburg to view the alleged crime scene.

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com.

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