Dec. 1—Despite objections from the defense attorneys, the trial for Natalie Cochran, a Daniels pharmacist charged with murdering her husband, has been pushed back to May 1.
Cochran's trail was initially scheduled to start Dec. 12.
During a pre-trial hearing Wednesday in Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge Robert Burnside's courtroom, Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Hatfield said he filed a motion for a continuance because of the amount of discovery involved in the case. which was taking a great deal of time to receive and process.
"I filed a motion to continue the trial because I don't think either side is in a position to go forward on (Dec.) 12," Hatfield said during the hearing.
He added that he thought it would be "virtually impossible" for either side to be ready before the end of 2022.
Cochran's defense attorney Matthew Victor agreed with Hatfield that a continuance for the case would be "an absolute necessity." However, Victor pointed his finger at Hatfield as the cause of this.
In a motion to dismiss the indictment filed on Nov. 18, Victor stated that Hatfield's office had failed to provide a number of documents, which "prevented the defendant from effectively defending her case against the capital charge filed against her by the state of West Virginia."
The motion then went on to list 17 items of discovery which the defense had yet to receive from the prosecution, including the prosecution's witness list and expert witness list along with these witnesses' personal details, disciplinary records for law enforcement witnesses, a list of the prosecution's proposed trial exhibits and several other documents that pertain to reports related to this case.
Victor also argued that neither the motion to dismiss nor the motion for a continuance could be decided in court on Wednesday as Cochran was not present.
Cochran is currently serving an 11-year sentence in the Federal Correctional Institute-Hazelton in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., for federal charges related to the operation of a $2.5 million Ponzi scheme. She was expected to appear in court remotely from the federal institution, which she has done for previous hearings, but technical issues prevented this.
"We're kind of in a holding pattern here because we're waiting for the discovery, the motions are pending, the client isn't here and I don't think that we can address anything today without the presence of the defendant," Victor said.
In response to these remarks, Hatfield acknowledge that Cochran's defense attorneys had the right to the documents they were requesting but added that many were from outside agencies that he had no control over.
Hatfield went on to say that several of the documents Victor requested in his motion to dismiss had yet to even be received by the prosecution.
"...I have not turned them over because I have not received them yet," Hatfield said.
He added that several of the documents requested were from nonlaw enforcement agencies and federal agencies, "which are notoriously difficult to get to disclose things to the state level."
In his rulings on both matters, Burnside cited case law as to why he felt a ruling could be rendered on both motions despite Cochran's unexpected absence.
"We seem to have a set of circumstances that makes it impossible to proceed through trial as scheduled (for December), if that trial is to be conducted in a manner that does protect and does observe the due process rights of the defendant," Burnside said.
In addressing the discovery issues, Burnside said that discovery in cases such as these are typically extensive and at times complicated to obtain, adding that neither side is at fault for this.
He then ruled against the defense's motion to dismiss and in favor of the prosecution's motion for a continuance, over objections made by the defense.
This is not the first time this case has been continued. During the initial hearing in January when Cochran pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering her husband, a trial date was set for June 6.
However, in April, Cochran's defense attorneys filed a motion for a continuance of the trial citing a "combination of late, but voluminous documentary disclosures" from the prosecution.
This defense motion also noted the lack of a witness list from the prosecution as well as information regarding the criminal records history for the prosecution's law enforcement witnesses and other records related to potential witnesses.
The defense's motion for a continuance was granted, which is why the trial was initially pushed to the end of 2022.
In an interview after the hearing, Hatfield told members of the press he turned over external hard drives containing two terabytes of data to the defense.
He added that the discovery aspect of this case is "substantially completed" despite opposite claims made by the defense.
Hatfield also informed the media that following the hearing, both sides had come to an agreement on a new date for the trial. He said Cochran's new trial date will be May 1 with a pre-trial hearing set for April 19.
Cochran was charged in November 2021 with first-degree murder for the death of her husband, Michael, who died in February 2019, following an investigation by West Virginia State Police.
Prior to the indictment, a special grand jury, made up of Raleigh County residents, looked at the evidence in a private hearing and voted that the evidence was strong enough to bring a charge of first-degree murder.
Some of that evidence likely included reports regarding the exhumation of Michael's body. The exhumation was approved by a Raleigh County judge in 2019, eight months after Michael's death and while the federal Ponzi scheme investigation was taking place.
The West Virginia Medical Examiner's Office first listed Michael's manner of death as "natural."
The Register-Herald reported in January 2022 that state officials have since changed the manner of death to "undetermined."