Sep. 23—PRINCETON — After being asked to consider a woman's history of mental illness and hearing her plea for mercy, a circuit court judge sentenced a Mercer County woman who was convicted last August of second-degree murder to 40 years in prison.
Monica Suzette Hartwell, 53, of Lashmeet was brought before Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope for sentencing. Hartwell was convicted Aug. 11 of second-degree murder for the July 26, 2020 shooting death of her boyfriend, Michael Walker, outside their Presbyterian Avenue home in Lashmeet. Hartwell was later charged with first-degree murder and was found competent to stand trial.
Hartwell told troopers with the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment after the shooting that she believed Walker was possessed. Witnesses testified during her trial that Hartwell and Walker had both been drinking that day, and that Walker had been talking about Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit.
State troopers found Walker on the front porch steps. Hartwell was in the home, and told troopers that the shotgun was in the living room. Walker had been shot once in the head.
Judge Swope asked Prosecuting Attorney Brian Cochran if the state was taking any position about Hartwell's sentencing. Cochran replied that the court was aware of Hartwell's admissions to law enforcement and psychiatrists, and would leave her sentencing to the court.
"We believe she needs to be sentenced to the penitentiary and receive treatment there," Cochran said. "As far as duration, we will leave that to the court."
Attorney Ryan Flanigan, who represented Hartwell, made motions for a new trial and for a judgement of acquittal. Swope denied both motions.
Flanigan told the court that Hartwell had been "a productive member of society" before she became ill, and that she had been battling mental illness her entire life. He asked the court to have a presentencing evaluation of her mental condition to be conducted.
Hartwell's sister, Teresa Quesenberry, told Swope that her sister was a person who was always taking care of animals and helping people when they were growing up, and was "a great beautician" before she became sick. During her illness, she could not walk or see, and became very confused; treatment for her problem affected her cognition. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and other mental conditions. She had been at psychiatric institutions more than once, and attempted to commit suicide after the shooting, her sister added.
"Monica does not know how to load a shotgun and never had a shotgun," Quesenberry said, adding that her case was one in which the mental health system failed.
"I do know my sister is a very loving person," she said.
Members of Walker's family did not attend Thursday's hearing. Cochran said that the county probation department could not contact anybody in the family.
Hartwell stood and read a statement to the court. She recalled how she and her sister worked at a grocery store while they were growing up, kept a garden which they watered by carrying 5-gallon buckets from the Bluestone River, how her grandfather taught her to trap and fish, and how her grandmother taught her to cook and made dresses they could wear at pageants.
As Hartwell read her statement, she said that Walker would hide her medication, and that she still does not remember what happened the day he was shot. She asked Swope for mercy so she could be with her family.
"Your Honor, please have mercy on me," she said. "I pray you'll have mercy on me."
Swope said there was limits as to what he could do in cases involving mental illness.
"My hands are tied about what I can do with mental health," he stated, adding that he could not put Hartwell on probation. He could not send her any other place but the penitentiary. A human life had been taken.
"I haven't heard any reason why this man was killed. None," Swope said.
Swope sentenced Hartwell to 40 years in prison with 789 days credit for the time she has spent in jail and on home confinement after her arrest. Swope then told her family that she would be eligible for parole in 10 years, and could discharge her sentence with good behavior within 20 years.
"I certainly believe she needs to get help in the penal system, the maximum amount they can give her," Swope said.
Hartwell waived to her family and blew kisses as she was led from the courtroom.
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