Webster County, WV – May 7, 2015 – A Webster County husband and wife gunned down three people when the trio came to the couple’s home to repossess a washer and dryer in June 2012, then tried to haul one of the three bodies away by tying it to the back of an all-terrain vehicle with an extension cord, could not convince the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that their convictions were unwarranted.
A jury found Michael York and his wife, Amanda, guilty of the shooting deaths of Denise Coates, Lamar Allen and Dustin Brown following a five-day trial two years ago.
Michael York was sentenced to life in prison without mercy on each of two counts of first-degree murder, plus 40 years for second-degree murder, one to five years for concealing a body and five years for illegally possessing a firearm — all to be served consecutively. He was acquitted of conspiring with his wife to commit murder.
Amanda York, convicted of three counts of voluntary manslaughter and one count of conspiracy to conceal a body, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on each manslaughter conviction and one to five years for conspiracy, also to be served consecutively. The jury acquitted Amanda York of conspiring with her husband to commit murder.
Court records indicate the two women had quarreled earlier in the day. Coates, accompanied by Allen and Brown, later drove to the York home to repossess the appliances and at some point Michael York went inside the home, retrieved a four-round .30-06 rifle and fired more than seven shots at the three of them, reloading at least once.
Allen was struck once in the chest, Coates was struck once in the chest and twice in the back and Brown was struck once in the side and twice in the back. All three died at the scene.
Police said the Yorks tried to drag Brown’s body from the scene by tying it to the back of an ATV with an extension cord, but abandoned the effort when the cord broke. Michael York then fled in the family car, leaving his wife behind to call police.
Amanda York initially told authorities she was home alone with her 5-year-old daughter and had shot the three in self-defense as “they were coming in,” but later admitted her husband was the shooter and that she’d been standing behind him. Michael York subsequently confessed to the shootings.
Michael York, convicted of first-degree murder of Coates and Brown and second-degree murder of Allen, claimed in his appeal the trial judge had erred by denying his request to instruct the jury on “imperfect self-defense.”
Michael York’s attorney wanted the judge to tell the jury West Virginia law recognizes that, “when a defendant uses deadly force with an honest but unreasonable belief that it is necessary to defend himself, the element of malice, necessary for a murder conviction, is lacking.”
The trial judge instead instructed the jury that if York was not the aggressor and was in imminent danger of death or serious injury, he could be found to have acted in self-defense.
On appeal, the justices pointed out Michael York’s proposed jury instruction improperly relied on a footnote in a 2006 case in which they’d recognized that the doctrine of imperfect self-defense had been applied in other jurisdictions, but they had not adopted it. They said Michael York “failed to cite any West Virginia case law or statutory law supporting his argument that the law recognizes an imperfect self-defense.”
“In order for (him) to have been justified in the use of deadly force in self-defense, he must not have provoked the assault on him or have been the aggressor,” they added. “Mere words, without more, do not constitute provocation or aggression.”
Michael York also contends the state didn’t prove he’d acted with malice toward the three victims, saying he, his wife and child “were physically and verbally assaulted” by Coates at a neighbor’s home earlier in the day and he’d de-escalated the situation by going home. Michael York suggested Coates and Allen inflamed the situation by “seeking additional muscle” and showing up at his home “with hostile intent.”
The justices, however, pointed out prosecutors had presented substantial evidence at trial that Michael York was not acting in self-defense when he fired the rifle, “including evidence that the three victims were unarmed, that Mr. York shot two of the three victims in the back, and that he reloaded … and shot the victims again.”
“While defense counsel argued to the jury that Mr. York was acting in self-defense, the jury rejected this argument and found (him) guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder,” they wrote. “In light of the substantial evidence introduced against him during the trial, Mr. York’s claim that the state failed to offer sufficient evidence that he killed the three decedents with malice is without merit.”
Michael York and his wife both claimed the trial judge had prejudiced the jury by asking a prosecution witness, the medical examiner, if Coates and Allen had been shot in the back, but the Supreme Court ruled “nothing in the record suggests the circuit court abandoned its role of impartiality and neutrality … when it asked the medical examiner to clarify two answers he had already given.”
Likewise, both also claimed in their appeals that the trial court erred by not disqualifying a juror who had talked with a prosecution witness during a break in proceedings. The justices found no error in the trial judge’s refusal to strike the juror, saying testimony “showed that this brief conversation did not include any discussion about Mr. York’s alleged crime, nor was reference made to any aspect of (his) case. We find no abuse of discretion.”
Amanda York also argued on appeal that the state presented insufficient evidence at trial for the jury to find that she aided and abetted her husband in shooting the three victims, and therefore she should not have been convicted of manslaughter. The Supreme Court, however, pointed out she’d been tried as an accomplice, and the evidence against her included statements she and her husband had made that she was present and armed during the shootings, that she’d helped her husband try to conceal Brown’s body and that she’d tried to shift suspicion away from her husband by taking responsibility for the killings.
Amanda York also suggested her sentence was excessive, but the court pointed out it fell within statutory limits “and (was) not based on any impermissible factor.”
Original story by: By Linda Harris, Legal Reporter