Murder charges dismissed against trio

First-degree murder and arson charges against two Fayette County residents and a Beckley man were dismissed Friday in Raleigh County Circuit Court.

Daniel Robert Carte, 39, and April Dawn Davis, 37, both of Pax, and Cecil “Sonny” Harrah, 57, of Beckley, were indicted last September in the May 2006 death of Carte’s live-in girlfriend, Sheila Karnes. Karnes was found dead after a structure fire on North Sandbranch Road near Bradley, authorities said. State Police said last year that authorities had determined following a two-year investigation that the fire was deliberately set and Karnes died as a result of the fire.

At the time of Karnes’ death, State Police said last year, Harrah and Davis were dating and were friends of Carte. The charges against the three were dismissed without prejudice, which means the state retains the right to re-indict if new evidence surfaces. Although the three had already been indicted, Prosecutor Kristen Keller said the case, which now includes additional evidence, was brought before the most recent grand jury.

Following the re-presentment, the grand jury returned a “No True Bill,” meaning grand jurors decided the evidence was insufficient to indict. Based on the grand jury’s decision, Keller filed motions to dismiss the charges against all three. According to an order issued by Circuit Judge Robert Burnside, Keller, in her motion to dismiss, said “the evidence presently available is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this death is a homicide.” Because grand jury proceedings are secret, no one could say what the additional evidence was. Carte’s attorney, Brian Delius, praised both Keller and State Police investigators.

“The citizens of Raleigh County can take great comfort in knowing that not only are criminals vigorously prosecuted in this county, but Kristen Keller and the West Virginia State Police understand their role in protecting the innocent as well.” Carte, Davis, and Harrah had been free on bond awaiting trial.