Starcher

CHARLESTON - Justice Larry Starcher of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals pleaded passionately for Valerie Whittaker, vouching not only for her innocence but also for her courage.

Whittaker shot her daughter's father, Jerry Nills Jr., from 17 feet away in her kitchen. She hit him between the eyes.

The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld her conviction 3-2, with Starcher and Justice Joseph Albright dissenting.

"The evidence in this case permitted only one result - justifiable homicide in the defense of a child and the sanctity of the home," Starcher wrote. "Valerie Whittaker shot a man who had brutally beaten her many times, and who came into her home in violation of a court order and feloniously attacked her daughter.

"Her response was what, I believe, most people would like to have the courage to do.

"To me, the instant case is not about 'self defense.' It is about the right of a mother to protect her child…"

Mercer County jurors convicted Whittaker of voluntary manslaughter in 2004.

She appealed, claiming she shot in defense of herself and her daughter.

By the time the case came to oral arguments before the Justices, she had served her prison sentence.

"The reality of the instant case, I fear, is that because Ms. Whittaker is no longer incarcerated, the majority has given 'short shrift' to her legitimate legal and human claims," Starcher wrote, also scoffing at the majority's effort to strengthen their decision with a call for better enforcement of laws protecting victims of abuse.

"Rhetoric from this Court decrying domestic violence is no substitute for strictly enforcing fairness in the courts for women who take action against their abusers," he wrote.




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