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Man gets year in jail for fatal St. Patrick's Day punch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Balking at a probation recommendation, a Kanawha County circuit judge gave a Charleston man a year in jail for delivering a St. Patrick's Day punch that led to another man's death.

Kenneth Ray Slater, Jr. pleaded guilty Friday to battery charges in the death of Robert Adkins, 51, a former Alcohol Beverage Control Administration employee who reportedly was grabbing Slater's girlfriend on St. Patrick's Day outside of a South Charleston bar.

After warning him several times, Slater punched Adkins, who fell to the ground and hit his head on the sidewalk. He did not immediately go to the hospital and he was found unconscious at his home three days after the incident.

"He kept grabbing on my girlfriend," Slater told Judge Tod J. Kaufman during Friday's hearing. "He kept grabbing and I punched him one time. That was it, sir."

Police reports indicated that Adkins suffered from severe brain trauma, a skull fracture, and a broken nose.

Kanawha County assistant prosecutor Fred Giggenbach told Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman that investigators did not have evidence that Slater intended to kill Adkins and recommended a term of probation.

Kaufman asked Slater if he knew he committed a criminal act by punching Adkins. Slater hesitated before answering, "I didn't know it was wrong."

Kaufman decided to levy a one-year jail sentence on the battery charge, a misdemeanor.

Prosecutors initially declined to open a case against Slater, since the initial investigation indicated that he was defending his girlfriend.

"How in the world would you get a jury of people in this valley to agree?" Dan Holstein, chief of staff for the prosecutor's office, said previously. "I think every guy in the valley would have done something similar and every girl in the valley would hope their guy would do something similar."

Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants, based on conversations with family members, decided to proceed with the case. A grand jury indicted Slater earlier this year on charges of voluntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor that carries the same punishment as battery.

Giggenbach noted Friday that the investigation unearthed a brief gap of time between when Adkins reportedly grabbed at the woman and when Slater punched Adkins. He apparently took several moments to walk down the sidewalk, find Adkins and deliver the blow, indicating that he could have adjusted his actions at any time, prosecutors said.

"Our goal in this case is, first of all, getting a conviction," Giggenbach said.

Slater, according to police, has a history of barroom scuffles.

An anonymous tipster told police during the initial investigation, when authorities were still trying to identify the man responsible for punching Adkins, that Slater had been in bar fights before.

Slater himself told police that, on the same night he punched Adkins, two men also had punched Slater and broke his nose for "hitting a woman." Slater's friend, Camellia L. Taylor, fell to the ground during the scuffle with Adkins. The men might have believed that Slater assaulted her, Slater said, according to a police report.

"I think it's a good possibility that this defendant will screw up," Giggenbach said, adding that drug and alcohol screens might detect that Slater is not following the terms of his probation.

Bruce Adkins, Robert Adkins' brother, told the judge that his brother already suffered from medical problems and had a heart valve and pacemaker. He asked the judge for a heavier sentence based on his reportedly raucous history as a "fighter."

"Probation for a life," Adkins said before Kaufman gave his ruling. "Justice -- I just don't see it."

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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