Shoes salesman pleads guilty to murdering Kelley's Men's Shop co-worker
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charles March, the former shoe salesman accused of killing and cutting up his co-worker, pleaded guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder.
But March, 60, said he didn't mean to kill Kathy Goble, 62.
March was arrested after Goble's body was dug up near his Chesapeake mobile home in April. That grisly discovery happened at the two-year anniversary of her disappearance. The two worked together at Kelley's Men's Shop.
After a few failed attempts, March finally pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon before Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom. The judge had denied two previous attempts by March to enter a plea, including earlier in the day.
March said, "There was nothing done intentionally. I killed her, but I did not do it on purpose. I just want this done and over today."
One of March's court-appointed defense attorneys, Richard Holicker, told the judge repeatedly that March was pleading guilty against his advice. On Wednesday morning, that plea was postponed for five hours because Holicker insisted March was too confused to do it.
Bloom placed March in a holding cell at the courthouse and asked him to consider his options until 3 p.m. The judge also asked psychiatrist Ralph Smith to re-evaluate March to determine competency.
Smith said he talked with March and determined he was stable, capable of making a plea and wanted to do it.
At one point in the hearing, it appeared March was wavering in his resolve again when the judge detailed how a jury might consider the intent issue and return a verdict with a lesser penalty than life imprisonment.
Then, after conferring with his lawyers again, March indicated he wanted to plead guilty.
"I just want to say one thing," March told the judge. "She wasn't..."
Holicker quickly interrupted, hit the microphone and March never finished that sentence.
March's video confession to police was not played in the courtroom, but Detective Sean Snuffer of the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department gave some details of that conversation.
Snuffer said March told him he had tied Goble up on his bed with neckties and then, while kneeling on her chest, strangled her with his hands. He said he used enough force that he heard her bones pop.
March told Snuffer he placed a plastic bag over the woman's head to be sure she was dead. Then he carried her to a bathtub where he cut the body up with a Kobalt wood saw.
The cause of death, according to reports from the state Medical Examiner's Office and the Smithsonian Institute, was asphyxiation by manual strangulation.
A few months after his arrest in April and two days before his arraignment in August, March attempted suicide by jumping from a deck at South Central Regional Jail. He was wheeled into the courtroom on a gurney for the arraignment and later appeared in a wheelchair.
On Wednesday, he seemed to walk with difficulty. He was handcuffed and shackled.
Assistant Prosecutor Fred Giggenbach said in exchange for March's guilty plea, a charge of concealment of a body would be dismissed.
After the hearing, Prosecutor Mark Plants said he was satisfied with the plea.
"Anytime you can secure a first-degree murder conviction without going to trial, it is a positive," Plants said. "But we had a strong case. Our evidence at trial would have been he intentionally strangled her to death."
Billy Herald, a family friend and spokesman for Goble's relatives, said it was a relief to finally hear the plea.
"Nothing he says can bring her back," Herald said. "And that's the ultimate thing everyone has to deal with. It's difficult to hear the details. Those are gruesome details.
"It's a horrible thing to happen to anyone," he said.
The motive for the murder remains unclear.
Bloom set sentencing for Jan. 31, and will decide whether March gets life with or without mercy. Mercy would mean a chance to go before the parole board after serving 15 years.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4832.