WV Book Team: Of true-life murder and malice

By By Bill Clements
WV Book team
Courtesy photo
West Virginia forensic psychologist W. Joseph Wyatt has written a book recalling some of the notable cases in his long career.

“The Breaking Point Killing and other True cases of Murder and Malice: A West Virginia Forensic Psychologist Remembers” by W. Joseph Wyatt. 6x9 trade paper, 224 pp, $15.95.

Retired Marshall University forensics psychologist W. Joseph Wyatt has testified as an expert witness in over 200 West Virginia criminal cases: murders, kidnapings, rapes, child abuse and more. Drawing on court records and his own research, Wyatt highlights eleven of his most dramatic—and some bizarre—cases in a just-released non-fiction book of true crime.

Titled “The Breaking Point Killing,” after the case that opens the book, Wyatt’s 224-page offering is sure to enthral readers who like mystery, courtroom drama or just local-color tales.

Four cases from the book:

In Princeton, James Constantino fell victim to an overseas inheritance scam that had him believing he would reap millions of dollars. He ponied up substantial sums to “secure” the inheritance gains before it all blew up and he realized he’d been taken. Retreating into remorse and depression, Constantino ended up shooting his gay lover to death while the man slept, then living two days with the corpse before calling the police.

Seventeen-year-old Scott Skeens, a disaffected mixed-race school dropout, was dealing drugs in Huntington under the watch of Walter Lee Henry, 45, a vetean dealer who ruled by intimidation.

Skeens at one point accepted an antique “Karate sword” from Henry in exchange for crack cocaine. Later, the two got into a scuffle at a downtown Huntington service station. Skeens broke away, ran home and came back with the antique sword and stabbed his mentor to death.

In a seedy section of Jefferson in western Kanawha county, Bobby Lane became enraged when he discovered his pregnant girlfriend, Misty Cabral, in bed with a “john,” and burst into the room with a hammer. He bludgeoned the john repeatedly until the hapless man died of the blows. Then he recruited Misty to help him bury the body.

Jim Richardson was released from prison after spending 10 years behind bars for a homicide he did not commit, the murder of a neighbor woman. He had been one of scores of victims of false blood serum reports from the lab of one Fred Zain. As many as 134 individuals may have been wrongly convicted due to such reports by Zain.

In compensation for the loss of a decade of his life, Richardson was awarded $1 million from the state of West Virginia, because it was responsible for the activities of the serology lab. He was awarded another $1 million by Kanawha County, the seat of the prosecution that landed him in prison though he was thoroughly innocent. (Zain was charged with fraud but never stood trial, succumbing to liver cancer in 2002 at his Florida home.)

All names of both victims, perpetrators, family members and others associated with each case are real. The details of the killings or other major felony crimes are included, as well as the ins and outs of courtroom testimony and cross examination.

After carefully detailing these 11 bizzare yet true cases, Wyatt wraps up the book with an instructive final chapter on the science of forensic psychology, including how competence to stand trial is decided, and the many subtleties of culpability and defenses such as complete or partial insanity.

In this chapter-long discussion, Wyatt distinguishes “fact witnesses” from “expert witnesses.” The former, he says, are allowed to testify only to what they may have seen or heard, and are not allowed to express opinions.

“Expert witnesses,” which include forensic psychologists, may indeed state their opinions, once they have been certified by the court as experts in their fields.

Much of forensic witness testimony bears upon the competence of an individual either to stand trial or to be considered as “sane” during the commission of a crime. Throughout the book such questions constantly come up as Wyatt reviews one case after another. All of these issues make for fascinating reading.

“The Breaking Point Killing And Other True Cases of Murder and Malice,” with a center section of four-color photos from various cases, is available locally at Taylor Books, and online from the West Virginia Book Company at www.wvbookco.com or 304-342-1848.

Bill Clements is the owner and operator of the West Virginia Book Company.

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