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Sunday, October 26, 2014
By David Gutman and Kate White, Staff writers
Late on the night of June 12, West Virginia State Police Senior Trooper B.D. Gillespie got out of bed, put on his uniform and went looking for three young men. His wife said she had seen them tampering with his cruiser.
Gillespie, who has been with the State Police for three and a half years, searched for more than two hours, driving up and down Kegley Trestle Road, in Mercer County. At about 1:30 a.m., he found three young men on the road.
Two of them, Wyatt Heslep, 15, and James “Christopher” Collins, 18, had been on Gillespie’s property a few hours earlier. As a prank, Collins and another teen had thrown their wet underwear on Gillespie’s cruiser as they walked home after swimming.
The third young man Gillespie found that night, Timothy Hill, 18, had not been involved and had not been on Gillespie’s property.
Gillespie questioned the three friends. He wrote down their names and took their picture. Then he sent Collins and Heslep away and continued to question Hill, with whom he had some personal history.
According to Gillespie’s statements to his fellow troopers, Hill became uncooperative. The two struggled. Gillespie used pepper spray and his baton. A neighbor ran from his porch and tried to help Gillespie. The three tumbled into a drainage ditch. Gillespie said Hill repeatedly grabbed at his gun.
At 1:43 a.m., about 10 minutes after he found the three teenagers, Gillespie radioed to say he’d been involved in a shooting, according to State Police call logs. Two minutes later, a call went into Mercer County 911. There wasn’t much they could do. Hill was dead. Gillespie had shot him twice, once in the head and once in the chest.
Last week, a Mercer County grand jury decided not to indict Gillespie on any charges.
This account of the incident comes from hundreds of pages of interviews, photos and documents presented to the grand jury, the end result of an investigation led by State Police 1st Lt. E.F. Hensley and Mercer Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash. The documents were provided by Ash after a request made under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The State Police has not responded to a virtually identical FOIA request filed Oct. 16. Sent a list of eight specific questions regarding the investigation, State Police spokesman Lt. Michael Baylous wrote: “Since the possibility of a civil lawsuit still exists, we are not at liberty to discuss this case any further at this time.”
‘Fishing was his absolute favorite thing’
The month before he died was a big one for Timmy Hill. He’d turned 18. He’d attended his senior prom, held at Concord College, in nearby Athens. He’d graduated from PikeView High School.
Hill loved being outside, said his mother, Michelle. He loved four-wheeling, and “fishing was his absolute favorite thing.” He wanted to be a mechanic, and had signed up for welding classes in the fall at the Mercer County Technical Education Center.
He also had bipolar disorder. He had a long history of behavioral problems at school. His mother said he also had post-traumatic stress disorder, the result of three family members having been killed when he was very young.
Hill complained of depression and began going to Psycare, a mental-health practice in South Charleston, in 2012. In his initial visit, Hill’s doctor wrote that the depression was accompanied by “anxiety, indecisiveness, loss of interests, psychomotor agitation and social isolation.”
Hill was prescribed medication to treat the bipolar disorder. Over the next two years, he would try four medications and a number of different dosages to treat either bipolar disorder or depression, according to medical records.
His last visit to Psycare was June 11, the day before he died.
“He states that since his last visit he has been feeling worse,” Hill’s doctor wrote that day. “His current symptoms include depressed mood, indecisiveness, lack of motivation, loss of interests, low energy and social isolation. The symptoms have been present for years and have been more of a problem for the past few weeks. His appetite is unchanged. He reports his sleep has been poor. He has been experiencing an increased need for sleep.”
He was taken off his previous medication and was prescribed Lexapro, which treats depression and general anxiety.
“The reason his medicine was changed was because he was not sleeping,” Michelle Hill said. “It wasn’t personality change or anything like that. Them changing his medicine wasn’t anything new.”
Hill’s autopsy found levels of the drug in his system well within the prescribed amount. It also found evidence of marijuana.
‘It’s going to be a prank’
On the night of June 12, Heslep, Collins and another teenager, Christian Ballard, were returning to Ballard’s house after a late-night trip to a swimming hole. On the way there, Collins and Ballard decided to throw their wet underwear on Gillespie’s car.
“It’s going to be a prank,” Collins told police afterward. “Just throw the underwear onto somebody’s car so they wake up the next morning and be — we thought it would be funny.”
They had no vendetta against the trooper, Collins said; his cruiser was just the first car they came across. (They also might have knocked over a neighbor’s mailbox and torn out a real estate yard sign.) So they threw the underwear, but Angela Gillespie, the trooper’s wife, saw them.
“We heard somebody yell at us,” Collins said. “They was like, ‘What are you all boys doing?’ And me and, me and Christian took off running, and we was faster than Wyatt, so I don’t know where Wyatt went.”
The boys met up at the house Ballard shared with his mother, stepfather and stepbrothers. Heslep then got a text message from Hill, asking if he wanted to meet up and smoke some pot. Heslep said sure. He and Collins headed back out. (Heslep, Collins, Ballard and Ballard’s two stepbrothers initially lied to police about these events, afraid that they were in trouble for the marijuana and the underwear prank. They later corrected their statements.)
At the same time, Gillespie went looking for the three people who threw underwear on his car.
‘Who’s been throwing underwear at my car?’
The teenagers met up, walked along railroad tracks and smoked two joints. At one point, Hill ducked because he thought a truck might have been a police officer, the other two boys said. Then they started walking back toward Hill’s house to play PlayStation.
“We got to the bottom of Timmy’s driveway and that’s when we saw the white light,” Heslep told police. “It was an officer, the officer, Gillespie, and he came out. He was like, ‘Who’s been throwing underwear at my car?’”
The ensuing incident was not captured on audio or video. The camera on Gillespie’s cruiser was never turned on, and he was not wearing his audio microphone.
Collins lied and told the officer that he had not thrown his underwear. The other two also said that they had not, which was the truth. Gillespie got the boys’ names and birth dates and took several pictures of the three of them.
Then he told Collins and Heslep they could go away while he continued to talk to Hill. “He told me and Chris to go on a little bit,” Heslep told the investigators. “After that, he turned to Timmy and looked at Timmy and didn’t really even say even anything.”
State Police investigators who questioned Gillespie never appear to have asked why he sent the other teens away but detained Hill.
Gillespie said he recognized Hill from the neighborhood but couldn’t remember his name. He said Hill was acting strange.
“His demeanor, the way he was handling himself,” Gillespie told investigators. “Just wasn’t acting what I would consider to be the way people normally act.”
‘Who is the Hill boy?’
Gillespie had reason to remember Hill. Several months before, the trooper had told his sergeant that Hill was illegally riding his dirt bike in the street. He then went to Hill’s house to confront him. There was a short discussion between Gillespie and Michelle Hill, and then Timothy Hill apologized.
The events leading up to this confrontation are in dispute. At 5 a.m., the morning after the shooting, Michelle Hill told the State Police that her son had had trouble with Gillespie, whom she called Ben, before.
“Ben’s wife didn’t like ATVs and motorcycles. They would follow him with a video camera,” Michelle Hill said. “They would stop at the end of the road and watch him with binoculars. Ben came to the house in March and talked to me about Timmy.
“He told me Timmy was disrespectful and that he should take him on to jail,” Michelle Hill told investigators.
Gillespie said he was “just trying to be a friendly neighbor” when he approached Timothy Hill and told him he couldn’t ride the motorcycle. He said Hill cursed at him and took off running.
Michelle Hill said Gillespie followed her son in his cruiser; Gillespie said Timothy Hill followed him on the dirt bike.
Regardless of which version is correct, because of their history, Angela Gillespie thought — incorrectly — that Hill was one of the boys on their property the night of the shooting.
“I said, ‘Ben I feel like that one that was getting in the truck was Timmy Hill,’” Angela Gillespie told investigators. “I wouldn’t think he would do that, after all the trouble we’ve had out of him before.”
Before setting out to search for the three young men, Gillespie told his wife that he did not agree.
“Who is the Hill boy?” he asked her, according to his interview with State Police. She reminded him about the confrontation over the motorcycle.
“I said, ‘No, there’s no way possible it’s him.’ I said, uh, it had been months since I spoke with him,” Gillespie told the investigators. “The last time I spoke with him, uh, he was totally respectful. We left on good terms.”
‘Fired two rounds’
After Gillespie sent Heslep and Collins away that night, he said Hill told him the other two had been at the trooper’s house but he had not.
Gillespie asked why Hill didn’t tell him that before. He said Hill replied that Gillespie had never asked him and that, “I don’t have to tell you a damned thing.”
“And he just started looking around and like he was trying to look for a place to go and kept looking at me and looking me up and down. I wasn’t sure why, and I told him, I said ‘Well, go ahead and turn around and I’m going to handcuff you,’” Gillespie told investigators.
State Police investigators appear never to have asked why Gillespie was handcuffing Hill, or if he was being arrested.
When Gillespie grabbed Hill’s arm, Hill jerked away, cursed at him and went to “jolt off.” Gillespie put his arm around Hill’s neck and told him to stop resisting, he told investigators.
The two fell to the ground, with Hill still struggling, Gillespie said. Then the trooper sprayed Hill directly in the face with a large amount of pepper spray from a distance of about six inches, Gillespie told investigators.
“It was like it didn’t have any affect whatsoever,” he said.
The two continued to struggle. Clark Crews, a neighbor who was sitting on his porch, ran over and asked Gillespie if he needed help. Crews said he immediately felt the effects of the pepper spray.
Gillespie told Crews, “Get him off me,” according to Crews’ statement.
Crews pulled at Hill’s arm and all three men fell six to 10 feet down a hill into a drainage ditch. Hill landed on top of Gillespie, according to the trooper’s statement.
Gillespie said he was able to get out from underneath Hill and push him away.
“I got up my feet and he immediately came back up to his knees, and I felt him pulling on my, the top of my gun, the top of my gun holster, and I grabbed his arm and said, ‘Get off my gun, get off my gun,’ and then I was able to turn to the side and get my hands on my gun,” Gillespie said.
“At that time, we’d probably been fighting for at least two and a half minutes. I was pretty exhausted. I couldn’t hardly breathe, my mouth was dry, my eyes were burning from the capstun [pepper spray] and I, I remember telling him several times get off my gun, get off my gun, and that’s when I pulled my gun out and pointed it in his direction and fired two rounds.”
Crews’ account of the events is largely consistent with Gillespie’s, although Crews was walking back up the hill to try to escape the pepper spray when the shots were fired and did not see the shooting. He did tell investigators that he saw Hill reaching at Gillespie’s belt but did not know if he was reaching for the gun.
Heslep and Collins — out of sight a short distance away, but within earshot — said they heard a yell or a scream, followed by two gunshots.
After the shooting, Gillespie walked to his cruiser and retrieved what looked to Crews like an M-16 rifle and called for backup.
Hill was shot once in the head and once in the left side of the chest.
The state medical examiner’s autopsy found that the bullet in Hill’s temple was shot “sharply downward.” The autopsy found “no searing, soot deposition or gunpowder stippling,” which could indicate that the shot was not fired at very close range, according to the autopsy report.
The autopsy also did not have evidence that the gunshot to Hill’s chest was fired from close range, Dr. Nabila Haikal wrote, and the direction of fire was “downward.”
The State Police report on the killing said a laboratory analysis of Hill’s T-shirt found that the shot to the chest was fired from no more than 12 inches. No copy or evidence of this lab report was provided by the Mercer County prosecutor, and State Police did not answer questions about it.
No blood or hair was found on Gillespie’s gun. The State Police report indicates that the gun was sent for DNA testing, although there’s no mention of test results in the documents provided by the prosecutor.
Hill’s body and Gillespie’s showed evidence of the struggle. There were blunt-force injuries to Hill’s head, trunk and extremities and abrasions on his arms.
The investigating officer said Gillespie was disheveled, wet and muddy. He had scratches on his left arm and “visible redness on the left side of his face.”
The two shell casings were not found. Gillespie’s flashlight was found between his cruiser and the drainage ditch. His handcuffs were found “on the road berm, in front of a single mailbox bearing the name ‘Hill.’”
Reach David Gutman at email@example.com, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.