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Ashcraft gets under way

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

SUTTON -- For more than 20 minutes Tuesday afternoon, members of a Braxton County jury were spellbound by a dramatic audio tape of the 911 call made by a Harrison County man after he allegedly shot to death his ex-wife and a friend of hers.

"My name is Brian Ashcraft, I shot my ex-wife. I'm sorry," Ashcraft's recorded voice echoed throughout the silent courtroom. "She is laying in the yard dying, ma'am, please help me."

Also contained on the tape were dispatch calls made from the Harrison County Bureau of Emergency Services to area police and emergency workers.

Brian Evert Ashcraft is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, willful and wanton endangerment with a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. He is accused of shooting to death his ex-wife, Heather Csutoros Ashcraft, and J.T. Honce in June 1999.

"This is not a murder mystery," said defense attorney Thomas Dyer during his opening arguments Tuesday afternoon. "It's not a whodunit. It was not an accident and it was not in self-defense. The only issue here is premeditation.

"Did he plan to go over there? Did he plot it out or did he just blow up?" Dyer said.

Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Edmund Matko contends that Brian Ashcraft was a man with a history of violence toward his ex-wife, a man who often lashed out at her so that "reportedly at times she became so upset that it was visible she was concerned."

"He never left her alone to live her life in freedom," Matko said.

Matko said that even after their divorce became final in May 1999, Brian Ashcraft continued to contact Heather Ashcraft up until June 5, the day of the shootings. Matko said that he believes the evidence will show that Brian Ashcraft drove to her home that night and walked into the house carrying a bag containing a 9 mm pistol.

"He walked into the living room and sees Heather. She sees him and is surprised, upset and nervous," Matko said. "Brian then saw young J.T. Honce and said to him, 'You shouldn't be here,' pulls out the gun, points it at young Honce, pulls the trigger and Honce falls to the floor.

"Heather, being in the state of mind that she was, runs past Brian Ashcraft, out the door," he said. "As she's running, the gun is going off -- he's firing."

As Heather Ashcraft left the home, Matko said, she saw her then-5-year-old daughter and huddled over her to protect her. Police have said Heather Ashcraft was shot four times.

Dyer and defense attorney Jerald Jones contend that Brian Ashcraft went to the home that night because he believed the couple was in the process of reuniting.

"Even after the separation, they saw each other nearly every day," Dyer said. "They would go out as a family and they would go out to dinner together.

"Not to oversimplify matters, but when he got there, he discovered her with another man," Dyer said. "After the shooting, he immediately called 911 and I'm going to suggest that is the most important piece of evidence.

"Pay utmost attention to the tape," he said. "He was begging 911 to get there because he flipped out, he's lost his mind. He doesn't hide any evidence and he doesn't run away. I think what you will find is that there was never any plan for any of this."

Jurors also heard testimony from several Clarksburg Police Department officers who responded to the scene June 5.

The trial is expected to resume today at 1 p.m.

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

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