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
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.
- 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.
By MARK PAXTONFEB. 11, 199012 AMASSOCIATED PRESSCHARLESTON, W. Va. —
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.”
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 3 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. Fenton,
(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 petition. I. 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 1 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). 4 confessions, Moss was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. 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 5 presentment delay was to obtain a confession from the juvenile. State v. Ellsworth,
, 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,
, 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. 6 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 7 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,