CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha Prosecutor Mark Plants fired longtime Assistant Prosecutor Maryclaire Akers Tuesday in a move that shocked many in the law enforcement community.
Akers, 38, has worked for the prosecutor's office since 1999. She was there when Plants took office in 2009 and has worked with him since, including for a time as his chief of staff.
Plants said he told Akers of his decision Tuesday and that it was her last day in his office.
"Personnel decisions are the hardest decisions that I make often times," Plants said late Tuesday.
When asked for the reason behind Akers' dismissal, he said, "I can't discuss personnel matters."
Akers said Plants came into her office Tuesday morning to give her the news.
"As recent as two weeks ago I was considering another position elsewhere," Akers said in a telephone interview. "Mark Plants told me I was an A-plus prosecutor and that I could expect a raise. I turned down that position and this morning he let me go."
Plants sang her praises when U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin appointed Akers as a special assistant U.S. Attorney in October 2011.
"We've had a lot of serious cases come up and Maryclaire's gotten every phone call and she's been the go-to on all of those," Plants said then. "I could have put someone else in that position but she's a perfect fit for this."
Akers had been one of Plants' co-chiefs of staff, a position she shared with current chief of staff Dan Holstein. When she took the position at the U.S. Attorney's office, her task was to look at the criminal histories and evidence against those arrested in violent crimes to determine if the case should be prosecuted in circuit or federal court.
In taking on that responsibility, she gave up her chief of staff designation. But she retained her duties as assistant prosecutor and kept working on her cases, including the prosecution of Shawn Lester, the man who pleaded guilty last year to one of the three Kanawha sniper shootings.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said she completed her term as special assistant a few months ago and that he appreciated her service.
Akers handled a number of high profile cases for the prosecutor's office. She could remember losing only one murder case in her career.
In 2009 a Kanawha County jury acquitted Kurt Wilt, 27, of Maryland of the 2007 murder of Jason Venanzi in a robbery gone bad. Akers and Holstein had argued Wilt was with Charles Skiles, who pleaded guilty to the murder in 2008, when he shot Venanzi.
She successfully handled or assisted in getting convictions against offenders like Thomas Mallo, the Charleston teen who stabbed Phyllis Phares, his elderly neighbor, to death in her West Side home; Farley Rhodes, who burned his girlfriend to death after she told him she was leaving him; Brandon Sherrod, who shot James Williams while he stood in the kitchen of his West Side apartment in retaliation for putting beer in a baby's bottle; and Natasha Light, who was a passenger in the pickup the night Charleston Patrolman Jerry Jones was shot and killed in a friendly fire incident.
Akers, a George Washington High School graduate who attended West Virginia University for her undergraduate and law degrees, said she wanted to be a prosecutor to help others and to stand up for victims.
"I really have been blessed to serve the community this way," she said. "I have gotten to work with some of the finest law enforcement around. Those guys and gals are amazing in what they do.
"The women and men in law enforcement work long hours and a lot of the time they don't get to see their families, so it's just as important for the prosecutors to work just as hard when they pick up the ball to make sure those people go to jail."
She said she didn't have any hard feelings toward Plants and that she wishes him and those at his office well.
"He is the boss," she said. "The people of Kanawha County have elected him to run this office and I respect the voters.
"It has been an absolute privilege to serve the citizens of Kanawha County."
In the hours after learning of the matter, police officers began contacting the Daily Mail to show their support for Akers. Several officers called, despite the fact no comment had been solicited.
Lt. Steve Cooper, Charleston chief of detectives, called Akers one of the best prosecutors he'd worked with in his 19 years in law enforcement.
"It didn't matter if it was Christmas morning, she was there to help the police on the big cases," he said. "She made it her business to assist law enforcement in cleaning up the streets. If we had a big case we called Mrs. Akers."
Sgt. Bobby Eggleton, commander of Charleston's Special Enforcement Unit and former assistant chief of detectives, called it a sad day.
"In all of my years in law enforcement she was one of the most trusted advisers I would turn to at the Kanawha County Prosecutor's Office," Eggleton said. "She's done as much in fighting crime in Charleston as any police officer I've ever known."
Capt. Greg Young, who commands the Kanawha Bureau of Investigation, said he hated to see her leave the prosecutor's office.
"She's a great prosecutor," he said. "Very proficient and dedicated and overall just a great person."
Young said Akers was always available when she was needed and always gave officers good advice.
Akers, who is married to Charleston attorney J.B. Akers, has three children - a 7 year old and two 5-year-old twins.
When asked what she would do next, Akers said she wasn't sure.
"I'll land on my feet," she said. "I've got a wonderful husband and three great kids to go home to."
Plants said another assistant prosecutor would move up into circuit court, where Akers prosecuted her cases. He said the office also would hire a new assistant prosecuting attorney.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.cr...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.