John Moss Jr.

Victims: Vanessa Reggettz, 26, Paul Eric Reggettz, seven, & Bernadette Reggettz, four

Age at time of murders: 17

Crime date: December 13, 1979

Crime location: St. Albans

Crimes: Home invasion, triple murder, & child murder

Murder method: Vanessa-beating, strangling, & stabbing; Paul Eric–choking & drowning; Bernadette–strangling;

Weapon:  Vanessa-person & scissors; Paul Eric- electric cord & water for drowning; Bernadette–cord

Convictions:  First-degree murder

Sentence: “Life without mercy” (no parole eligibility) later reduced to 15 years to life.

Incarceration status: Incarcerated

New state law opens up possibility of parole for killers


Moss is believed to have broken into the Reggettz family’s home to steal money. When Vanessa and her two children returned, Reggitz tried to stop the burglary, leading Moss to murder her and the children. Paul Reggettz III later came home to discover his wife and children’s bodies. Vanessa, 26, was lying on the bedroom floor and had been beaten and strangled and stabbed with scissors. Seven-year-old Paul Eric was found in a bathtub full of water. He has been choked with an electric cord and drowned. Bernadette was found hanging from a door facing the family’s Christmas tree. She had been strangled.
Paul confessed to the crimes and spent 11 months in jail. He claims police bullied and threatened him into confessing. He was freed after Moss confessed. Moss was convicted in 1984. His conviction was overturned but he was convicted again at a second trial. Moss was sentenced to “life without mercy” (in most states called life without parole). However, in 2014, West Virginia enacted House Bill 4210. The law requires juvenile offenders to be eligible for parole after 15 years. Those with life sentences like Moss must be eligible for parole at least once every three years. Other juvenile offenders must be eligible for parole annually.


Despite new law, parole denied for man convicted as a juvenile

  • Andrea Lannom
  • Sep 2, 2014 Updated Oct 27, 2017

A man convicted in the 1980s of strangling a St. Albans mother and her two children will not be released on parole.

John Moss Jr., 52, appeared Tuesday before the state Parole Board. Moss, who received three consecutive life sentences, was eligible for a parole hearing as part of a new law.

The law, House Bill 4210, prohibits a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for those convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles. Under this law, people have the right to a parole hearing after 15 years.

This also applies to consecutive sentences adding up to more than 15 years.

So far, the parole board has identified seven inmates at Mount Olive Correctional Center to whom the law would apply. Five had hearings Tuesday and the board denied parole for all of them.

They will go before the parole board again in September 2017.

Prosecutors alleged Moss broke into the home of Vanessa Reggettz to steal money and killed the family after Reggettz discovered him and tried to stop him.

Reggettz’s 4-year-old daughter, Bernadette, was found hanging from a door facing the family’s Christmas tree and her 7-year-old son, Paul Eric, was found in a bathtub full of water.

Moss’ attorneys argued at the time their client was innocent and that Vanessa’s husband, Paul Reggettz, was responsible for the crime.

Paul Reggettz originally confessed to the crime, but later said he confessed because he didn’t want troopers to hurt him.

Moss confessed three times to the crime, according to court records.

The jury convicted Moss on three counts of first-degree murder but the state Supreme Court reversed the case on several issues. The case later was retried and Moss again was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder and given three life sentences.

Another Kanawha County case affected by the new law will not go before the parole board until October 2023. In this case, Kelly Juwan Chapman received a life without mercy sentence for shooting a pregnant woman in the stomach, injuring her and causing the death of her fetus.

True Confessions? : Suspicions of Husband Linger in Murder Case, Even as Neighbor Faces 2nd Trial


A decade ago Paul Reggettz III spent 11 months behind bars after confessing that he murdered his wife and their two children. He was freed after a former neighbor confessed to the same crime.

Reggettz has spent the last 10 years struggling to rebuild his life, painfully aware of the stares and whispers of those who still think he is guilty.

Now the second man who confessed, John Moss Jr., is to stand trial again, in March. His previous conviction on three first-degree murder counts was overturned because of a judge’s mistakes.

“I don’t want to keep reliving that nightmare,” Reggettz said. “Every five years will I have to because of the state Supreme Court? Where are my rights? I’d like to have the right to get on with my life.”

The nightmare began on Dec. 13, 1979, the cold, rainy day Reggettz rushed into a restaurant a block up the narrow dirt street from his family’s one-story house in nearby St. Albans. He called police and said: “You’ve got to help me. My wife’s dead.”

Police found Vanessa Reggettz, 26, lying on the bedroom floor, beaten, strangled and stabbed with a pair of scissors. Their 7-year-old son, Paul Eric, was found in the bathtub, apparently choked with an electrical cord before being drowned. Their 4-year-old daughter, Bernadette, had been strangled and was hanging from a cord strung over a door.

As the bodies were carried from the white frame house, Reggettz, then a 36-year-old United Parcel Service worker, was taken to State Police headquarters for questioning. He was interrogated for 21 straight hours, with no food or sleep. Police deny any improprieties, but Reggettz said he was bullied, threatened, knocked to the floor and a gun was held to his head.

Finally, he said, the shock of seeing his family murdered, combined with the terror of the interrogation, overwhelmed him, broke his will. He confessed.

“The children were screaming and crying,” he told investigators. “My head felt like it was going to explode and I had to put a stop to the noise.”

Reggettz was taken back to the house where his family had been slaughtered and re-enacted the slayings for police and Kanawha County Prosecutor Mike Roark.

“I was put under so much pressure, tremendous pressure,” Reggettz said. “Now, what’s pressure to me might not be pressure to you. You might stand 10 times the pressure. I was put in a pressure situation where I would have told them I was anybody or anything doing anything they wanted. Anything.

“And people say, ‘You mean to tell me you would lie and say that?’. . . I didn’t want to lie. Why would I want to say something I didn’t do?

“But lying got to where it didn’t mean anything out of fear. Fear won over the lying. . . . I would have told them anything–anything–to get them to leave me alone and not put pressure on me.”

An autopsy report estimated the time of death at midnight, well before Reggettz left for work at 1:45 a.m.

The case seemed cut-and-dried, and Circuit Judge John Hey sent Reggettz to jail without bond. Charges against Reggettz were dropped before he went to trial, but he lost his job while behind bars.

“Three times–and I’m not trying to get dramatic–three times I planned suicide in there,” Reggettz said. “I came to the very end of my rope three different occasions.

“I thought dying would have to be better than living.”

Ten months after the slayings, and the day after Hey refused to throw out Reggettz’s confession, Moss told police he committed the murders.

In jail in Cleveland on other charges at the time, Moss was a former neighbor of the Reggettz family. He had been named in Reggettz’s indictment as a participant in the slayings, but he wasn’t indicted then because he was 17.

Tests showed that some of the blood found in the Reggettz home didn’t come from the victims or from Reggettz, but did match Moss’ blood type.

Moss also was linked to several items reported stolen from the Reggettz home.

The medical examiner changed the estimated time of death, which he had based on Reggettz’s confession, to sometime in the early morning after Reggettz had left for work.

Roark finally conceded that he believed Reggettz was at work 25 miles away in Rand when the murders occurred, and Hey dropped the charges against him.

Moss contended that he also was forced into a false confession by the state trooper who interrogated Reggettz, but Hey refused to throw out his tape-recorded statement. His defense lawyer argued that Reggettz committed the murders, picturing him as a volatile father with no affection for his family, and as a former motorcycle gang member who worshipped Satan.

A jury deliberated 14 hours before convicting Moss in 1984, five years after the slayings.

But the state Supreme Court in December, 1988, ordered a new trial for Moss on three grounds.

The court said the judge erred when he refused to poll each juror about possible exposure to prejudicial comments made by the prosecutor and broadcasts on local radio and television stations during the trial.

The court also said the judge allowed the prosecutor to make prejudicial comments during his closing arguments, including statements that Moss has “a ruthless, vicious, diseased criminal mind” and should never be released “to slaughter women and children in Kanawha County.”

The court also said Hey failed to allow admission of evidence regarding a polygraph test Reggettz took.

Despite Moss’ widely publicized trial, Reggettz still runs across people who assume that he is guilty.

“All this many years later they act like I was the one who was tried, and I’m out running around when I ought to be locked up,” he said. “I have a problem understanding that. . . .

“If you liked me before this stuff happened, you’ll probably say I didn’t do it. And if you didn’t like me, you’ll probably say I did it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

During a recent shopping trip, for example, Reggettz said he waited outside a discount store while his wife–he remarried seven years ago–went through the checkout line.

“I was standing outside looking through the window waiting for her, and the woman checking her out said: ‘You know who that is? That’s Paul Reggettz. That’s the guy who killed his family.’ And my wife said: ‘That’s my husband.’ The woman didn’t know what to say.”

Reggettz, 46, now lives in South Charleston and earns his living doing odd jobs. A self-described “born-again” Christian who rediscovered his faith in jail, he and his wife have no children, but he said they’re considering adoption.

A member of a Pentecostal church, Reggettz struggles to explain his concept of good and evil when asked why his family died.

“I believe there’s a God in heaven,” he said. “I believe there’s a Satan–a real, live living devil. . . .

“He’s an evil thing out to destroy, kill. And I think he was the instigator. He used somebody to destroy my family. He’ll use anybody that’s open to his influence.

“Explain to me why a guy suddenly, one day he walks off the job and goes home and gets three or four guns and a thousand rounds of ammunition and goes to a school and starts shooting up kids. I don’t believe that one day the man said: ‘I think I’m going to kill a bunch of kids today.’ I’m sure a lot of them have thought that. But they may have help thinking of it.”

Ten years later, Reggettz said he is not bitter about what happened to him.

“I used to be,” he said. “It took me a long time to get to where I’m at today.

“The state of West Virginia, the State Police, some of them made mistakes. Fine. Everybody’s going to make mistakes. The state’s not perfect. The State Police are not perfect. Mike Roark’s not perfect. The judges aren’t perfect.

“I know a lot of people made big mistakes in my case. But the mistake would be even worse if I let it eat me alive.”

John Moss, III v. David Ballard, 11-7354 (4th Cir. 2013)

Petitioner      John     Moss,        III    confessed         three      times      to

murdering    a   mother       and     her    two    children        in   West       Virginia.

Despite     Moss’s     attempts        to     suppress        those      confessions        as

involuntary, the state trial court admitted them at trial, and a

jury convicted Moss of three counts of first-degree murder.                                 On

appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (“West

Virginia     Supreme     Court”)       reversed        the    convictions           based   on

multiple errors at trial.               Of particular import to the appeal

before     us,   the    West    Virginia          Supreme     Court      concluded        that

although all of the confessions were obtained in violation of

West Virginia’s juvenile prompt presentment statute, only the

third confession had been improperly admitted because it was the

only   confession      that    Moss’s        counsel    had       objected     to    on   that

basis.      Thereafter,        Moss    was    retried       and    again      convicted     of

three counts of first-degree murder.

       After the denial of several state habeas petitions, Moss

filed a federal habeas petition.                    The district court dismissed

Moss’s petition, declining to address whether counsel in his

first trial was ineffective and rejecting his argument that his

confessions were involuntary.                This Court granted Moss’s request

for a certificate of appealability to determine “(1) whether

Moss’[s]    first      trial    counsel       was    ineffective         in    failing      to

object to the admission of his [first two] confessions on the

ground   that    they    were    taken    in   violation      of    West   Virginia’s

juvenile presentment law,” and “(2) whether the district court

satisfied     the     independent      analysis    requirement       in    Miller   v.


474 U.S. 104

(1985), for determining the voluntariness

of Moss’[s] confession.”          Upon review of these issues on appeal,

we   affirm     the    district     court’s     dismissal      of    Moss’s   habeas



     In 1980, Moss confessed to murdering a mother and her two

children in West Virginia in 1979.                Specifically, on October 28,

1980, as two West Virginia State Troopers transported Moss from

an Ohio detention center to West Virginia, Moss indicated that

he would discuss the murders.             The troopers then brought Moss to

a West Virginia police detachment center where Moss signed a

Miranda waiver and orally confessed to the murders.                        Later the

same night, Moss signed a second Miranda waiver and gave a tape-

recorded confession.            And, while being driven back to Ohio on

October 30, 1980, Moss confessed to the murders a third time.

Moss was seventeen years old at the time of the murders and

eighteen      years     old     when     he    confessed. 1          Following      his

       See W. Va. Code § 49-5-1(a) (1978) (a defendant nineteen
or under charged with committing an offense while under eighteen
must be remanded to the trial court’s juvenile jurisdiction).

confessions, Moss was charged with three counts of first-degree


      Before trial, Moss moved to suppress his confessions.                             Moss

initially challenged only his first two confessions, arguing in

part that they were involuntary because the officers coerced him

and   disregarded          his     request        for   an         attorney.       After    a

suppression hearing, the court rejected Moss’s arguments, denied

his motion to suppress, and admitted the first two confessions.

Later, Moss also moved to suppress his third confession.                                   At

that hearing, Moss’s counsel again argued that the confession

was involuntary, but additionally argued that Moss was not taken

before      a    neutral         judicial     officer         in     violation     of   West

Virginia’s juvenile prompt presentment statute.                                That statute

required that a juvenile be immediately taken before a neutral

judicial officer when taken into custody.                           W. Va. Code § 49-5-

8(d) (1978).           Despite this additional argument, the court also

admitted Moss’s October 30 confession.

      In April 1984, a jury convicted Moss of three counts of

first-degree           murder,    and   the    court      sentenced        him    to    three

consecutive terms of life imprisonment without mercy.

      One       year    after     Moss’s    trial,      the    West     Virginia    Supreme

Court ruled that any confession obtained in violation of West

Virginia’s juvenile prompt presentment statute must be excluded

from evidence if it appeared that the primary purpose of the

presentment delay was to obtain a confession from the juvenile.

State v. Ellsworth, 

331 S.E.2d 503

, 508 (W. Va. 1985).                           Three

years    after    that,    the    West     Virginia    Supreme       Court    reversed

Moss’s    convictions       on    appeal    and    remanded      for   a   new   trial

because of multiple trial errors, including failure to poll the

jury, improper prosecutorial remarks, and improper admission of

evidence.        State v. Moss, 

376 S.E.2d 569

, 572 (W. Va. 1988).

The court further held that although Moss’s confessions were

voluntary, see 

id. at 577-80, they

were taken in violation of

West Virginia’s juvenile prompt presentment statute because he

was never presented to a neutral judicial officer, 

id. at 581. But

because the court held that Ellsworth’s exclusionary rule

did not apply retroactively unless a presentment objection was

made at trial, it determined that only Moss’s third confession

was inadmissible.         

Id. Before Moss’s second

trial, the trial court conducted a

suppression hearing regarding the admissibility of Moss’s first

two confessions.          The court admitted the confessions for two

independent      reasons:       (1)   it   believed    that    the     West   Virginia

Supreme   Court’s     ruling      that     the    October   28   confessions     were

admissible was the “law of the case”; and (2) irrespective of

that ruling, it determined that the confessions did not violate

West    Virginia’s    juvenile        prompt     presentment     statute.        Supp.

Appendix 1-3.

        Following his second trial, the jury again convicted Moss

of    three    counts      of   first-degree       murder,        and    the    court       again

sentenced him to three sentences of life imprisonment without

mercy.     The West Virginia Supreme Court subsequently denied his

petition for appeal.

        Between 1994 and 2007, Moss filed four habeas petitions in

West Virginia circuit courts.                 The courts denied each petition,

rejecting       Moss’s         challenges     to        the   voluntariness            of    his

confessions and his arguments that counsel in his first trial

was     ineffective        in    failing     to     raise     a    prompt       presentment

objection      to    his    first    two    confessions.               Further,    the       West

Virginia Supreme Court denied Moss’s habeas petition filed in

that court.

        In 2009, Moss filed a federal habeas petition, arguing in

part that counsel in his first trial was ineffective in failing

to object to the first two confessions on presentment grounds

and that his confessions were involuntary.                         The state moved for

summary judgment.           The magistrate judge recommended granting the

state’s       motion     and    dismissing        the    habeas        petition,   and       the

district court adopted that recommendation.                             Specifically, the

district court concluded that it was “not charged with reviewing

the    conduct      of   the    petitioner’s       counsel        at    his    first    trial,

where    his    convictions        were     ultimately        vacated.”         J.A.        2957.

Further, it concluded that Moss did not sufficiently show that

the   state       courts’     factual         determinations             regarding       the

voluntariness        of     his       confessions           “were        incorrect        or

unreasonable” or “that the state courts’ decisions concerning

the voluntariness of his confessions were contrary to, or an

unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.”

J.A. 2945.

      Moss appealed and asked this Court for a certificate of

appealability.        We,    in   turn,    allowed          Moss    to    present     these

issues:    (1)    whether     Moss’s    counsel        at    his    first        trial   was

ineffective in failing to object to the admission of his first

two confessions on the ground that they were taken in violation

of West Virginia’s juvenile presentment law, and (2) whether the

district    court    independently        determined         the    voluntariness         of

Moss’s confession as required by Miller v. Fenton, 

474 U.S. 104