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Jury concerns delay Bluefield murder trial again

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Concerns about the jury brought another delay to a Tazewell County murder trial on Nov. 7.

Michael Wayne Pennington is charged in the April 2017 death of Katelyn Ann Toler, 21, of Bluefield. His trial, expected to last 10 days, was scheduled to start Nov. 7.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Plaster informed Circuit Judge Richard Patterson that communications Pennington had from the jail appeared to be threats to potential jurors.

A recorded phone conversation between Pennington, who is being held in the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail, and someone on the outside revealed he had been given the personal information of each member of the jury pool.

He told the person he was talking to he didn’t know any of them but they could easily be found. Patterson said the jurors had to be told of the situation.

The trial was rescheduled for March 20 through 31, 2023.

Pennington’s attorney, David Kelly, asked about the speedy trial statute but Patterson denied the request, saying the delay was Pennington’s own doing. He also ordered that the jury list Pennington gets for the new trial have all information except the names redacted.

Pennington was indicted by the May 2017 Tazewell County Grand Jury on charges including first-degree murder, concealing a dead body, three counts of grand larceny, three counts of larceny with intent to sell or distribute, credit card theft, credit card fraud and receiving goods from credit card fraud.

Toler’s body was discovered April 6, 2017, along Mountain Lane on East River Mountain in Bluefield. The commonwealth’s attorney at that time, Michael Lee Dennis, said that she had lived there with her mother, Mary Toler, and Pennington.

COVID-19 and other issues have resulted in the trial being delayed several times. Patterson said the delays were hard on the accused and also on the victim’s family.

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