Suspect pleads guilty in Nicholas County quadruple slayings
SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. -- A Nicholas County man pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the killings of two adults and two children.
James Roy Belknap, 27, of Leivasy, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Nicholas County Circuit Court to four counts of first-degree murder, Sheriff's Chief Deputy Paul O'Dell told media outlets.
Belknap was charged with fatally shooting Steven Leroy Hendrix, Amber Martin and Hendrix's two young children. The family was last seen May 19, 2012. Hendrix's daughter reported them missing.
State Police Sgt. D.A. Evans led an extensive missing persons investigation that revealed Hendrix was having problems with Belknap over money and drugs. The two had been arguing about money and Belknap owed Hendrix for drugs, according to Daily Mail archives.
The bodies of Hendrix, Martin, and Hendrix's two children Dakota, 6, and Kaylee, 4, were found on May 26, 2012. The victims were stripped of clothes and dumped down a mountainside.
Belknap was arrested two days later at a police roadblock.
Sentencing was set for Aug. 28.
Prosecutor P.K. Milam said Thursday the guilty plea came as a surprise.
"We didn't think he would admit to killing the two children particularly," Milam said. "He plead straight up to the charges. That's the worst he could have done at trial. We weren't offering him any plea deals in this case because of the heinousness of it."
Sgt. Michael Baylous, State Police spokesman, said troopers were relieved Belknap admitted his guilt, especially in the deaths of the children.
"Now we won't have to put the witnesses, troopers and other first responders through the experience of a trial and make them relive those experiences," Baylous said. "Sgt. (D.A.) Evans today said the crime scene was just horrific. All of those who responded will never be able to get rid of that image.
"It's just seared into their minds forever. Nobody should have to witness that kind of scene," he said.
In 2006, Belknap's father, Kenneth Belknap, was sentenced in Nicholas County to life in prison with the possibility of parole for first-degree murder. James Belknap pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge in the same case, and prosecutors dismissed a murder indictment against the son, according to court records.
An account of court testimony in The Register-Herald indicated the victim, Richard Parnell, was shot in a dispute over a cocaine deal and his body was then set on fire. Kenneth Belknap said his son had no involvement in Parnell's killing.
James Belknap was released from prison in 2009.
Baylous said troopers involved in the case would likely attend Belknap's sentencing, set for 3 p.m. on Aug. 28. Baylous said he's confident an appropriate sentence would be handed down.
He said it's good for troopers to attend a sentencing, as it has the power to strengthen their faith in the justice system.