Michael sentenced to life for husband's murder
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2007
Updated: Monday, October 12, 2009 00:10
A former West Virginia University cheerleader learned her fate Wednesday and saw the inside of a courtroom for the last time for at least 20 years.
After a three-hour posttrial, involving three more testimonies from witnesses, remarks from the defendant and the victim's family, Michelle Michael was sentenced to two consecutive sentences, including one for life in prison, for injecting a paralyzing drug into her husband, James "Jimmy" Michael, then burning down their Killarney Drive home.
Michael, who was dressed in an orange jumpsuit with her brown hair pulled into a ponytail, sat in the courtroom in handcuffs awaiting the sentence results.
For the charge of murder of the first degree, she was sentenced to life with mercy, meaning she is eligible for parole after 15 years. Michael was also sentenced the maximum penalty for first degree arson, 20 years in jail. West Virginia law allows her to be eligible to see a parole board after serving a quarter of her sentence, which is five years of the 20. This means Michael will not be able to go before the parole board until 20 years of the consecutive sentences are up.
Tom Dyer, Michael's attorney, motioned that certain witnesses testify again at the posttrial. Presiding Judge Robert Stone said it was "unusual to call witnesses at a posttrial," but he would allow Dyer to do so.
Dyer cross-examined four witnesses regarding the anonymous tip called in by Michael's ex-husband, Robert Angus.
During the trial in Charleston in July, Angus testified that he called his longtime friend, police Lt. Kevin Clark of the Morgantown Police Department, about a tip he received from his sister, who used to work with Michael. The call suggested the paralytic drug, rocuronium, that was available to all persons working in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where Michael used to work, was the cause of death.
Dyer said the defense did not learn until days into the trial that Angus was the anonymous tipster mentioned in the police report. Both Angus and Clark, as well as police 1st Sgt. Harold Sperringer and Dyer's former legal partner James Zimarowski, were called to the witness stand to testify regarding the anonymous call.
Dyer said the identity of the caller was exculpatory evidence that could benefit the defendant. Zimarowski testified that Prosecuting Attorney Marcia Ashdown questioned in an informal conversation before July's trial why he was curious about the anonymous caller. He said, "Because that's the killer."
After about two hours of direct and cross-examinations, Judge Stone said he did not see a situation in which the state failed to disclose the information to the defense. He said the defense must have decided that it was "a heck of an argument" to bring their lack of knowledge of the identity of the anonymous caller to the posttrial. He did not grant the defense a posttrial.
Stone told Michael she had the right to allocution, the right to address the court, in addition to what Dyer said on her behalf. Michael stood, paused for a short time and let out a heavy sigh before she stood in front of the court room to address the judge and her and James Michael's families.
"I, in no way, absolutely did not kill my husband. I did not destroy my family and our whole lives," Michael said through her tears. "I love my husband tremendously and I know a lot of people are going to roll their eyes about that. Jimmy is the ultimate victim of this. It reminds me that God has a plan ... but I can't for the life of me imagine what that plan is."
As Michael was addressing the court, her family was sitting on benches along the side of the gallery crying. Drew Michael, James Michael's son, looked away while Michael turned toward the gallery to address Ruth and Denny Michael, James' parents.
"If it's easier for you to blame me, then please do it," she said to his parents. "I pray every night that the truth will come out."
Ashdown then asked the court to hear remarks from the Michaels. Ruth Michael approached the podium in tears wearing a pin with her son's picture on it that said "Justice for Jimmy."
"The loss of Jimmy has devastated me," she said, mentioning it is the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up and the last thing she thinks about before she goes to bed. "What was so horrible about your life that you had to do this? ... My hope and trust is in the Lord to see me through, and I know he will."
Denny Michael, a pastor, quoted the Bible when he addressed the court.
"The Bible says `the love of money is the root of all evil.' That's a pretty broad statement," Denny said. But he believed it was the love of money on Michael's part that brought them into this situation. "Shelley (Michelle), you may receive a sentence, you may get parole after 15 years, but I do know this - we received a life sentence."
Denny continued to say that because Michael or her family did not contact them anytime after the funeral and because she refused to take a polygraph test, she shows her guilt. He then went on to address Michael again.
"Shelley, I don't hate you. Never did," Denny said. "I hate what you did. I hate what you did to our family and your family ... but I love you. I can forgive. It's stored up in me."
He then went on to directly address Dyer.
"One thing that I think that you failed to put in your equation is this, you failed to put God in your equation," Denny said. He then said he hoped Dyer and Michael will eventually "get saved."
After the posttrial and sentencing, Dyer commented on what Denny said in the courtroom. "I have all the respect in the world for Mr. Michael," Dyer said. "I couldn't have done what he just did."
After Denny addressed the courtroom, Ashdown addressed the court. She said even with all of the evidence in "this peculiar crime," it all points to Michael as the murderer. "She planned and premeditated the murder," Ashdown said, which then made Michael promptly respond with, "No, I didn't."
However, Ashdown continued. "This was Michelle Michael's plan, not God's, and she carried it out as she planned it."
Stone also addressed the court before reading Michael's fate.
"The issue of your guilt or innocence is not an issue today," he said. "There is one word I have settled on ... and that's `cold.' It (the crime) was just cold. Somehow there is a very dark side to your character."
"I'm not cold. I'm not calculated. I did not kill my husband," Michael responded.
"The jury decided it (your sentence), and, quite frankly, I agree with them," Stone said.
He then read the sentence, putting Michael's family in a fit of tears.
"We lost our daughter," Michael's mother said as she left the courtroom.
"We lost our son," James' mother said.