Details remain scarce in Doddridge County triple homicide
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Few details have been revealed in a Labor Day shooting that left a mother, father and their 9-year-old daughter dead and their 16-year-old son in custody
It has been a week since the Doddridge County Sheriff's Department released any information about the Sept. 3 shootings of Fredrick Spencer III; his wife, Dixie, and their daughter Patience.
They were killed by "multiple gunshot wounds" about 6 p.m. at their Mastons Road residence off W.Va. 18 North near West Union, according to last Friday's press release.
Their 16-year-old son, called "J.S' in the press release but identified by family members and his parents' obituaries as Joseph Spencer, has been arrested and as of last Friday was awaiting a pre-trial hearing, according to the release.
"A decision has not yet been made on whether the juvenile will be charged as an adult," the release said.
And that's all the police have said. Until the teen is charged as an adult, that's probably all they will say.
When an adult is charged with a crime, a criminal complaint is filed in the county's magistrate court.
Procedures work differently for juveniles. When someone under 18 is charged, cases begin with the filing of a "juvenile petition." Unlike criminal complaints, juvenile petitions are not available to the public.
"The juvenile records relevant to a charge of murder would not be available to the public until the juvenile case has been transferred to adult status," Kirk Brandfass, administrative counsel for the state Supreme Court, said in an email this week.
Adults charged with a crime make their first court appearance before a magistrate. Because Spencer is a juvenile, his first stop in the judicial system will be a closed preliminary hearing in circuit court.
If Doddridge County Prosecutor A. Brooke Fitzgerald wants to charge him as an adult, she would file a motion to transfer Spencer to adult status. The court would hold another closed hearing on that motion.
State law makes it likely Spencer will be charged as an adult.
W.Va. Code chapter 49, article five, section 10 requires courts to transfer juveniles to adult status if the suspect is 14 or older and there is probable cause to believe he committed murder.
But until Spencer's case is transferred, information will be extremely difficult to come by.
"Basically, when it's a juvenile case, they can't tell you anything," said Eric Cantrell, juvenile prosecutor for the Kanawha Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
Cantrell said when a person under 18 is accused of a crime, police and court officials cannot release the suspect's name or even say if the suspect has been charged.
He said information would become available if Spencer were transferred to adult status, however.
According to state law, "if a juvenile case is transferred to the criminal jurisdiction of the circuit court ... the juvenile records shall be open to public inspection."
The Doddridge County Prosecutor's office did not return calls or messages left Wednesday and Thursday.