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Felony charges advance
Against retired officer

Thursday, June 13, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Two felony charges against a retired investigator with the Martinsville Police Department advanced after a preliminary hearing Wednesday.

Retired Floyd County Judge K. O’Donnell, who served as a substitute judge at the hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Martinsville, certified the two felony charges to the grand jury, which will consider whether to issue indictments in the case of James Scott Witherow II of Martinsville.

An indictment does not indicate guilt. It is a grand jury’s determination that there is enough evidence to hold a trial.

Witherow, 70, was charged April 14 with malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in connection with the alleged shooting of his wife, Marleen S. Carter.

Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar asked for a special prosecutor in the case, and Assistant Pittsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Childress was appointed.

Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers asked the Virginia State Police to investigate the incident.

Both requests were prompted by Witherow’s more than two decades of service with the police department.

Carter, the only witness who testified at the hearing, said she and Witherow had been married about three years prior to April, and they had been arguing for the last year of their marriage.

Around 2:30 p.m. April 14, Carter testified that she asked her husband to “please get me a pen” so she could circle the names of divorce lawyers in a phone book.

Her husband then went into his bedroom, she said.

“‘Come here. I’ve got something to show you,’” Carter said her husband told her. There is “nothing you can show me now that will make a difference” now, Carter said she replied, but she went into the bedroom.

There, Carter testified that she looked up and “all I could see was a barrel” of what she described as a handgun. She said she did not know any other details about the weapon.

“When I came in there and looked up, he was facing me with a gun,” Carter later reiterated to defense attorney John Swezey.

Carter said she had not recovered from the shock of seeing the weapon when the trigger was pulled. A bullet hit her in the chest, she said when questioned by Childress.

“All the fragments are still in my body,” Carter testified.

She fled to her bedroom, but the alleged shooter “followed me with” the gun and allegedly told her, “‘You’ve called me a damned liar for the last time, Marleen,’” she testified.

As soon as she could, Carter said she fled from her bedroom, ran out of the front door of her home and tried to get help from a neighbor. That person was vacuuming and unable to hear anyone at the door, according to Carter, who said she then went to another neighbor’s home for help.

After 911 was called and rescue crews arrived at the scene, Carter said she was taken to Memorial Hospital in Martinsville and then transported to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital for treatment. She spent four days in the hospital in Roanoke, she said.

On that Sunday, Carter estimated the dispute had been going on for about five minutes, but “it’s hard to say exactly how long.”

The argument, she alleged, “started because of his compulsive lying” and was not about the couple’s impending separation or divorce.

“Was a knife found at some point” of the investigation, Swezey asked. “Isn’t it a fact you had a knife in your hand,” he asked. He alleged a knife was used to cut Witherow’s clothing and wound one of his hands when he “threw up his hand” to defend himself.

Carter testified that while there were several knives in the house — some that were her husband’s and some that belonged to her son — she did not have a knife in her hand. “I do not own any (knives) personally,” she said.

Witherow joined the Martinsville Police Department on Sept. 1, 1971. He resigned April 9, 1973, and was rehired Nov. 1, 1973. He retired on May 31, 1998, after spending about 10 years in uniform and 16 in the investigative division, according to previous reports.


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