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FOUR SNIPERS SENTENCED FOR TRUCK DRIVER'S DEATH


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Friday, February 05, 1988
Page: P3C
Byline: n/a

LEXINGTON, Ky. (UPI) _ U.S. District Judge Henry Wilhoit imposed nearly the maximum sentence Thursday on four men convicted last year of charges in the 1985 shooting death of non-union coal truck driver Hayes West during a labor dispute.

Wilhoit imposed sentences ranging from 35 to 45 years on the four men. The judge also sentenced another man who cooperated with authorities to five years in prison, and then probated all but six months.

Arnold Ray Heightland, 48, of Columbus, Ohio, who had a previous murder conviction, received the stiffest sentence of 45 years.

Donnie Thornsbury, 35, president of United Mine Workers local at Canada in Pike County, received 40 years. David Thornsbury, 33, and James Smith, 35, each were sentenced to 35 years. All three were from Canada.

West, of Raccoon, was killed May 29, 1985, when snipers opened fire on a convoy of coal trucks headed toward the non-union Samoyed Energy Co. mine.

The UMW was picketing the mine during a bitter 15-month strike against the A.T. Massey Coal Co.

"I understand labor disputes, but there can be no excuse for these labor disputes spilling over to violence because if that happens none of us are safe," Wilhoit said. "We cannot live in that kind of society. A human being was killed and that cannot be ignored." m The four men given stiff sentences received 10 years below the maximum on one charge and the maximum on three others. Wilhoit declined to impose any fine. The maximum each faced was $750,000.

The men were convicted of violating interstate transport laws, and Heightland was convicted by a federal jury in Ashland on an additional weapons charge.

Wilhoit sentenced Ervin Smith, 47, also of Canada, to five years.

and then ordered he serve six months in prison and be under probation.

for three years. Under a plea agreement with federal authorities for his cooperation in the case, Smith had faced a maximum 20-year sentence for a single charge of violating interstate commerce.

The five men allegedly participated in the ambush of the convoy of trucks which included West and Royal Lee Johnson, who also was injured by gunfire. But it was Paul Smith, also of Canada and a cousin of the Smiths sentenced Thursday, who was allegedly the trigger man.

Paul Smith was acquitted last month to similar charges by a federal jury in London. He was indicted on murder charges by a Pike County grand jury Wednesday and is still in custody.

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