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Jeffrey Sampson takes stand in double-murder trial

Murder suspect Jeffery Sampson, front, holds his hand up to show how he was holding a gun he said discharged accidentally and shot Shawn Hardman while Wood County Prosecutor Pat Lefebure, center, holds up the weapon Monday in Wood County Circuit Court. Sampson is charged with the murders of Shawn and Brandy Hardman. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Jeffery Sampson took the stand on the fifth day of his double-murder trial Monday, offering his own account of the January 2017 morning Shawn and Brandy Hardman were killed at Sampson’s ex-wife’s home.

Under oath, Sampson told his attorney, Shane McCullough, and Wood County Prosecutor Pat Lefebure that the gunshots that took the lives of the Hardmans were both accidental.

“I didn’t plan on shooting him (Shawn Hardman) or anybody,” Sampson said.

Brandy Hardman, 40, was pronounced dead at the 249 Nova Road, Mineral Wells, home where Sampson’s ex-wife Karen and their two teenage children lived, while Shawn Hardman, 43, died later at Camden Clark Medical Center. The Waverly couple had three children.

Following Sampson’s testimony, the defense rested. The Wood County Circuit Court trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today with jury instructions and closing arguments.

Defense attorney Shane McCullough asks a question during the trial of his client, Jeffery Sampson, on murder charges Monday in Wood County Circuit Court. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

On Jan. 10, 2017, Sampson said, he walked over to the house from his parents’ place, about 300 yards away, to talk with his ex-wife. Denying earlier testimony he wanted to resume their relationship, he said he wanted to discuss meeting with an attorney representing him in a class-action lawsuit involving Jeffery Sampson’s diagnosis with lung cancer due to asbestos exposure. He said he also wanted to establish a “civil relationship.”

He said he’d spoken to her on the phone briefly that morning about meeting.

“Then she said, ‘OK, whatever Jeff’ in a real hasty-like way,” he said.

When he dressed to go over, Sampson said, he put on clothes he’d worn the previous day, including a fleece with a .380-caliber handgun in one pocket. On his way, he said, he remembered he’d left the bag he takes to the gun range in his truck, along with a .40-caliber handgun. He picked up both before making his way to the Nova Road residence, saying in court he didn’t want to forget and leave them in the vehicle.

Once there, Sampson said he sat on the front porch until he noticed the door was open, a cable for the dog stopping it from closing. Initially, he said, he went in to sit on the couch and wait for his ex-wife to return from taking their children to the bus stop.

Jeffery Sampson walks to the witness stand during his trial. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“I thought, ‘I’m just going to have a little fun with her,'” he testified, saying he planned to hide, then walk in and remark about the importance of locking doors.

When Karen Sampson returned home, her ex-husband said, he was in the shower in their son’s bathroom. He heard her cleaning and talking on the phone for about 10 to 12 minutes before she found him in the bathroom.

“She’s like, ‘What are you doing”‘ … She let out a scream,” Jeffery Sampson said.

He said he reached out and touched her in the “upper chest area” and tried to pick up the phone she’d dropped. He denied grabbing her by the neck, as Karen Sampson testified last week.

When they were sitting in the living room, Jeffery Sampson said, he removed the gun from his pocket because it was uncomfortable. Then, he said, he referenced an acquaintance of theirs who had been shot and killed by her boyfriend, who took his own life.

Double-murder suspect Jeffery Sampson, center, answers questions from Wood County Circuit Court Judge Jason Wharton, not pictured, about his decision to testify in his own defense Monday as his attorneys, Shane McCullough, left, and Heather Nicholson listen. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“I said, ‘This won’t end like (her). These kids won’t be orphans today,'” he testified. “I had no intention of doing anything to her, anybody.”

On Thursday, Karen Sampson testified that he said, “‘Your kids are going to become orphans today. And this is going to end up like (that woman).'”

Jeffery Sampson said he never told his ex-wife she couldn’t leave and denied pointing the gun at her, although he acknowledged he talked a lot with his hands and probably waved the gun around.

Eventually, the Hardmans came to the house, after Karen Sampson spoke with Brandy Hardman on the phone.

Jeffery Sampson testified that he’d felt threatened by the Hardmans while married to Karen.

Double-murder suspect Jeffery Sampson, center, answers questions from Wood County Circuit Court Judge Jason Wharton, not pictured, about his decision to testify in his own defense Monday as his attorneys, Shane McCullough, left, and Heather Nicholson listen. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“They always told me if I ever hurt Karen, they would hurt or kill me,” he said, later saying he took that to mean if he physically hurt her.

When the Hardmans arrived, Jeffery Sampson said Brandy initially confronted him, before Shawn Hardman stepped between them. He denied picking up a gun while Brandy Hardman was talking to him, saying “it was always on my right thigh, under my right hand.”

Jeffery Sampson said he and Shawn Hardman were “talking back and forth,” then Hardman shoved him into the love seat where the .40-caliber gun was sitting on an armrest. He said he picked the weapon up out of “instinct” and held it up in the air. Then, he said, Shawn Hardman came at him again.

“The next thing I know, it (the gun) discharged,” Sampson said.

Questioned by Lefebure, Sampson denied pointing the gun at Shawn Hardman. He said he held it up high, with his finger off the trigger and it tilted down, in Hardman’s direction.

“You shot him,” Lefebure said.

“I shot in that direction,” Sampson said, also saying he went “blank” when the gun discharged.

Sampson said he did not see which direction Hardman went after the gun fired, but he went toward the back of the trailer. That’s where Karen Sampson testified she, Brandy Hardman and a wounded Shawn Hardman were.

“I wanted to see if he was all right,” Jeffery Sampson said. “If I’d known he was shot, I could have called 911 and said my gun discharged.”

Sampson said the door to the bedroom was locked and he pushed against it. Eventually, the top opened somewhat and he put his left hand, holding the gun he said he’d dropped then picked up, through it. Then the firearm discharged again.

“My hand was just moving around,” he said. “I don’t know if I pulled the trigger or if she was pulling on the gun” and caused it to fire.

At that point, Sampson said, he panicked and left the residence, with his guns and range bag. Asked by Lefebure why he didn’t call the police, Sampson said, “I was scared.

“Until you’re in a situation like that, you don’t know what you yourself would do,” he said.

Sampson testified that he drove for a while, not really knowing where he was going. Eventually, he started drinking beers that were in the truck and later stopped to buy more.

He admitted traveling at speeds of more than 100 mph, but said the only time he drove the wrong way was when a cruiser made contact with his truck, sending into the median and then the opposite lane.

“I was almost stopped. I wasn’t flying through there. I was trying to get turned around,” Sampson said.

Sampson said the alcohol, the confusion and injuries sustained while being arrested were to blame for inconsistencies between his initial statement and the account he gave in court.

Asked about a Dec. 26, 2016, incident in which he allegedly brandished a gun at Karen Sampson’s then boyfriend, Jeffery Sampson admitted he shoved the man and pulled the gun because he did not want the man around his children, trying to “replace me as my children’s father.” He said he drew the gun “to let him know that I meant business.”

Lefebure later asked what he meant by that.

“If you tell someone to stay away, they may or may not. If you get more aggressive, they usually do,” Sampson said. “No, I wasn’t going to kill him.”

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