POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — A Mason County jury has found a woman guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the 2018 death of her boyfriend.
As previously reported, Bunky S. Cline, 56, Kenna, W.Va., was charged with murder in July 2018 following the death of Carl F. Hooton, 57, Gallipolis, Ohio. Cline was accused of striking Hooton with her vehicle in the area of Chief Cornstalk Lake in Southside, W.Va. though indicated to deputies it “was not intentional,” according to the criminal complaint originally filed in Mason County Magistrate Court. The complaint further alleged Hooton was possibly “run over” more than once with Cline’s 2005 Chevrolet Equinox. Cline was later indicted for murder by a grand jury in January 2019.
Cline’s trial began last Tuesday in Mason County Circuit Court, with closing statements given Friday morning. Mason County Prosecuting Attorney R.F. Stein, II, represented the state while Attorney Mark Plants represented Cline.
“It is undisputed that she killed him,” Stein told jurors during his closing statement. “You’ve heard 12 to 15 witnesses on the stand, you’ve seen 60-plus exhibits, none of those have changed that fact. The defense has produced exactly nothing to dispute that fact.”
At one point, Stein told jurors, Hooton had injuries “from his head to his ankles. Are we to believe that a single pass caused all of those injuries…?”
Stein continued, “Ladies and gentlemen that indicates multiple passes, multiple strikes of this victim by the defendant in her car.”
Whether or not the injuries were caused by multiple strikes from the vehicle was a point of contention in the closing arguments between the state and defense.
Stein also referenced the testimony of Dr. Allen Mock, chief medical examiner for the State of West Virginia.
“He said the nature of the injuries indicated that the victim was run over intentionally, and he based that opinion upon all the evidence…the body, the police reports, the crime lab…everything, he took a look at everything, and that’s his opinion,” Stein said.
Stein maintained the evidence didn’t indicate an “accident” and asked jurors to return a verdict of murder in the first degree.
During his closing statement, Plants told jurors there was no evidence Cline intended to kill Hooton when discussing the possible verdicts the jury could return. Those verdicts included guilty of murder of the first degree without mercy; guilty of murder in the first degree with mercy; guilty of murder in the second degree; guilty of voluntary manslaughter; guilty of involuntary manslaughter; and not guilty.
“There’s all kinds of evidence that she is guilty of a crime and I think it would be unreasonable for you to find her not guilty based on the evidence, that leaves us with involuntary manslaughter …she committed a crime here, she killed a person, she’s going to have to pay the price for it,” Plants told jurors.
Plants also told jurors the prosecutor wanted them to find that this incident was committed as an intentional killing but the prosecutor failed to rule out the possibility it was an accident. At one point in his closing statements, Plants referenced what he called his client’s version of events, which, in part, included Cline being in the parking area of the campground to retrieve cigarettes, and from this area, she saw a fire up on the hill, which was believed to be the tent on fire, at the couple’s campsite – the incident reportedly happened at night.
“She’s admitted she’s panicked, she’s drunk and she doesn’t know what the heck she’s thinking She just has the thought, I’m going to get to Carl,” Plants said.
Plants later spoke about what he called proving the possibility that Cline got into her car and drove into the camping area to help Hooton, not kill him.
It was reported Cline’s BAC was .105 and Wooten’s BAC was .20 when samples were taken following the incident.
Plants also speculated from which direction his client, who had been drinking, believed she was actually entering the camping area, citing damaged posts in the vicinity.
Also, during his closing, Plants revisited Dr. Mock’s testimony.
“Dr. Mock agreed with me that this accident could’ve happened with one pass over the body,” Plants said. Plants also called law enforcement reports submitted to Mock “faulty.”
In his rebuttal, Stein said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the evidence at the scene was consistent with what was contained within the police reports.”
Stein further added the testimony of officers was consistent with the police reports. Stein also returned to the testimony of Dr. Mock.
“He’s not paid,” Stein said of Mock. “We didn’t give him a dime to come in and tell you all what he thought… He expressed to you that he was neutral. He doesn’t care, he doesn’t have an interest in what his finding is, he just wants his finding to be right. So what did he tell us? His opinion was that Carl Frederick Hooton died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries of the head and chest, intentionally struck, scene reconstruction suggests decedent was struck multiple times as the assailant intentionally made multiple looping passes through the death scene. He even told us, and he doesn’t normally have an opinion as to intent, but he felt that all the circumstances here supported such an opinion. That’s a pretty big statement ladies and gentlemen. A guy that does this everyday doesn’t usually take that next step but he did in this case. Why? Because he felt that when looking at everything, which, once again, he was the only one to do, the only witness that looked at everything, when he did, these are the conclusions that he came to.”
After deliberating for a few hours on Friday, the jury returned the guilty verdict of involuntary manslaughter. Prior to sentencing, Stein consulted with Hooton’s family which had gathered in the court room. Those family members present indicated they had no desire to address the court at that time. Then, presiding Judge R. Craig Tatterson sentenced Cline to the maximum penalty, which is one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Cline, who had already reportedly served 20 months in jail, was released, having already served more than the maximum sentence for the crime for which she was convicted.
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Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.