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Stafford jury gets slaying case

A Stafford County jury may decide today if prosecutors proved that William Hughes killed Jason Shane Plaster back in 2007.

Hughes, 45, is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying, which police believe took place sometime in late July 2007.

Hughes told jurors Wednesday that he had nothing to do with the slaying and has no idea why two people he considered friends claim that he did.

The jury deliberated about two hours after hearing closing arguments Wednesday, the third day of the trial in Stafford Circuit Court. Judge Michael Levy sent them home just before 7 p.m. and directed them to resume their consideration this morning.

On the witness stand Wednesday, Hughes admitted that he had spoken with Plaster about making advances toward his wife and his daughter, but said that issue had been resolved before Plaster’s death.

Plaster’s remains were unearthed last March following a several-day excavation operation at 881 Belle Plains Road in southern Stafford. The digging began after the property owner, Dennis Benzie, told police that Plaster had been shot, killed and buried there in the summer of 2007.

Benzie and Stuart Sullivan both testified Tuesday that they were with Hughes when Plaster was killed. They said Hughes was upset about Plaster “hitting on” his wife.

Both men said that Hughes fired the initial shot with a Derringer and that Sullivan followed with a 9mm shot of his own.

There was a 9 mm bullet in the back of his skull and a bullet wound in his ribs. A medical examiner has determined that either wound could have been fatal.

There were a number of differences the two co-defendants’ stories as well. Sullivan, who has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, said he knew nothing about a plot to kill Plaster until Hughes shocked him by shooting him.

Sullivan said he followed suit because Hughes, his boss at the time, and the president of a Warlock Motorcycle club chapter, told him to.

Sullivan said he feared that Hughes would harm him and his family if he didn’t obey.

Benzie said he, Hughes and Sullivan discussed killing Plaster shortly before it was done. He said they lured him into the woods on property near Potomac Creek under the pretense of digging up some guns that were buried.

Both men said it appeared that Plaster was dead before Sullivan shot him.

All three men participated in digging a hole and burying Plaster, according to both stories.

Hughes denied both men’s accounts. Asked by prosecutor Lori DiGiosia why his good friend Benzie would finger him, Hughes said, “I have no idea.”

Stafford Detective Chris Cameron said that in an interview last year, Hughes mentioned Plaster’s name before the detective had said anything about him.

Hughes explained that he had already heard a number of rumors involving him and that someone had already told him that Plaster was the person whose body was found.

In their closing argument, prosecutors Lori DiGiosia and Ed Lustig acknowledged the variations in the testimonies of Benzie and Sullivan.

But they said it was clear that Hughes masterminded and participated in the murder plot.

“Why would they pick on Bill Hughes?” DiGiosia said. “It makes no sense.”

Lustig added that neither Sullivan nor especially Benzie were “smart enough, cunning enough or cold-blooded enough” to concoct a false story against Hughes.

Defense attorney Chris Feldman said the prosecution simply hadn’t proven its case.

He described the prosecution case as “a shot in the dark” and said some of the key prosecution witnesses had only a “casual relationship with the truth.”

Feldman pointed out that both Sullivan and Benzie said Hughes used a Derringer, but it was a 9mm round in the base of Plaster’s skull.

He also noted that Benzie received full immunity from a murder charge in exchange for his testimony and he said Sullivan got a plea deal as well.

“There is reasonable doubt all over this case,” Feldman said.

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404

kepps@freelancestar.com

 

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