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Ex-wife testifies in Jeffery Sampson double-murder trial

Photo by Evan Bevins Wood County Prosecutor Pat Lefebure, right, shows Karen Sampson two handguns she identified as the weapons her ex-husband, Jeffery Sampson, was in possession of on Jan. 10, 2017, when he is accused of killing Brandi and Shawn Hardman, during Jeffery Sampson’s double-murder trial Thursday in Wood County Circuit Court.

PARKERSBURG — Testimony continued Thursday in the trial of Jeffery Sampson as his ex-wife told about the morning he allegedly killed her best friend, Brandi Hardman, and Hardman’s husband, Shawn.

“He pushes me up against the wall, and then he grabs the firearm and pushes it up against my temple,” Karen Sampson said while being questioned by Wood County Prosecutor Pat Lefebure.

“What does he say to you?” Lefebure asked.

“He says,” Sampson answered, pausing, “‘Your kids are going to become orphans today.'”

During the second day of testimony before Wood County Circuit Court Judge Jason Wharton, Karen Sampson described, often through tears, the chain of events leading up to the deaths of the Hardmans on Jan. 10, 2017.

Photo by Evan Bevins Witness Karen Sampson, right, enters the courtroom of Wood County Circuit Court Judge Jason Wharton Thursday during the double-murder trial of her ex-husband, Jeffery Sampson, second from left. Jeffery Sampson is accused of killing Brandi and Shawn Hardman at his ex-wife’s residence in January 2017.

She said she’d turned off her phone the night before to avoid an expected deluge of texts from her ex-husband, who wanted to “rekindle” their relationship. That morning, she said, she saw he’d texted her about 20 times. He called around 6 a.m., but she said they didn’t talk long.

“He just wanted to rekindle. That’s all he wanted. I didn’t want to,” Karen Sampson said.

After she dropped their teenage children off at the bus stop, Karen Sampson said, she returned to her 249 Nova Road, Mineral Wells, residence and began cleaning. Shortly after, she found Jeffery Sampson concealed in the shower in their son’s bathroom.

That’s when, she said, he grabbed her by the neck and put the gun to her head before eventually directing her into the living room.

“He said, ‘If I can’t have you, no one else will,'” Karen Sampson said. “He said, ‘You wouldn’t listen to me any other way. This is how I had to do it.'”

Photo by Evan Bevins Wood County Circuit Court Judge Jason Wharton speaks to the jury Thursday during the double-murder trial of Jeffrey Sampson.

While they were sitting in the living room, Karen Sampson said, her ex-husband asked her questions about relationships with other men and if she wanted to get back together. She said that although she did not really want to, she indicated she did.

“Of course, I tell him anything that he wants to hear,” she said. “It didn’t change him. He was still aggravated and angry.”

Karen Sampson said she’d been on the phone with Brandi Hardman when her ex-husband accosted her. Brandi Hardman attempted to call back multiple times, and Karen Sampson finally answered on her cell phone.

“She asked me if I was OK. I said no. She said, ‘Do Shawn and I need to come?’ I said yes. And she said, ‘We’re on our way,'” Sampson said, her voice breaking at the end.

It took the Hardmans about 40 minutes to get to Karen Sampson’s residence from their home in Waverly. During that time, she said, she and Jeffery Sampson continued to talk, even going out on the front porch to smoke.

“Why didn’t you run?” Lefebure asked.

“I didn’t have shoes on, and I was afraid he was going to shoot me in the back,” Karen Sampson said.

When the Hardmans arrived, Karen Sampson testified, she let them in and mouthed the words “He’s got a gun.” Brandi Hardman immediately went up to Jeffery Sampson and told him he needed to leave. When he picked up another gun, different from the one he pointed at his ex-wife, and set it on the arm of the loveseat, Shawn Hardman stepped between them.

At that point, Brandi Hardman took Karen Sampson back into a bedroom and called 911 from her cell phone.

“We heard no noise at all,” she said in response to a question from Lefebure about whether she heard any sounds of struggling between Shawn Hardman and Jeffery Sampson. The defense said in its opening statement Wednesday the two men had a brief fight and Shawn Hardman was shot by accident.

“What’s the next thing you heard?” Lefebure said.

“The gunshot,” Karen Sampson said.

Shawn Hardman made his way into the back bedroom and fell on the Sampsons’ daughter’s bed, she said. He and Brandi both told her to stay in a closet in the bedroom.

“The next thing you hear is Brandi yelling, ‘Jeff,’ and then the gun went off again. Another shot,” Karen Sampson said.

She testified she saw her friend fall to the floor but did not see her ex-husband again. After a couple of minutes, she exited the closet to check on Brandi Hardman, soon attempting CPR at the direction of a 911 operator.

Before asking about the shootings, Lefebure questioned Karen Sampson about two prior incidents involving her ex-husband, including one on Dec. 26, 2016, in which he allegedly shoved and pointed a gun at her then-boyfriend. Karen Sampson said she did not notify police because Jeffery Sampson had told her if she did, he would get her evicted.

Shane McCullough, one of Jeffery Sampson’s attorneys, noted his continuing objection to that testimony being included. Wharton, who overruled the objection in a pre-trial hearing, instructed the jury that the testimony about those incidents could only be used in a limited capacity to help see the total picture leading to the charges being tried, but not to determine guilt on those charges.

The prosecution also played voicemails from Jeffery Sampson to Karen Sampson, demanding she “answer the phone” and went over text messages he’d sent his ex-wife from December 2016 to January2017.

After the shooting Sampson fled the scene. West Virginia State Police first Sergeant Okey Starsick said he was involved in the pursuit of Sampson from Wood County to the Sutton Dam in Braxton County.

“At times the speed was 95 to 100 mph or more into Lewis County on Interstate 79,” he said.

Starsick said they were traveling north on the interstate and at one point Sampson crossed the median and began going north in the southbound lanes. Later he did a U-turn and was heading south and exited at Gassaway. Starsick followed him into Sutton where the pursuit continued over brick streets.

When they reached the Sutton Dam, he said, dispatchers informed him it was a dead-end road. He said the other troopers in the pursuit called for Sampson to come back, put down the gun and put his arms up.

“Because of the roar of the water going through the dam he couldn’t hear us and we couldn’t hear him,” Starsick said. “We began to use hand signals.”

Finally Sampson was tackled and arrested.

Both Starsick and Lt. Bradley Snodgrass, who was the district commander at the time, said they did not notice any injuries to Sampson’s face prior to the arrest. Snodgrass said he did not see Sampson after the arrest because he was busy with other duties at the arrest scene.

Starsick said he noticed redness around Sampson’s eyes and swelling on his jaw after the arrest.

Jurors also heard the three calls to 911 described earlier in the day, first by Brandi Hardman and then two calls by Karen Sampson. Duane Jones, the Wood County 911 technical assistant, said there were so many calls on the day of the shooting because they were made on cell phones and the calls were dropped.

Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. today.

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