Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

February 8, 2013

Man gets 22 years in murders

GREENUP — A Garrison man was sentenced Thursday to 22 years in prison for his role in a 2008 double homicide and arson.

Greenup Circuit Judge Bob Conley sentenced Mitchell Royster, 26, in accordance with the terms of his plea agreement, which provided authorities with the ammunition they needed to charge four others, including Royster’s wife, in the murders of Jeffrey Long, 45, and Pamela Willis, 21.

Royster, who was originally charged with two counts of murder and one count of arson, pleaded guilty last month two counts of second-degree manslaughter, one count of facilitation to first-degree arson and one count of conspiracy to commit first-robbery.

His plea deal requires him to testify against the other four defendants in the case, all of whom were arrested last month after the agreement was reached. They are Chrissie Bertram-Royster, 23, of Garrison, Royster’s wife; Sammy E. Bertram, 22; Willie Burns, 23; and Ashley N. Craft, 23, of Garrison. Bertram-Royster, Bertram and Burns are all charged with two counts of capital murder and one each of first-degree robbery, first-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence. Craft was charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit robbery.

The charges all stem from a Feb. 23, 2008, blaze at Long’s trailer in the 4900 block of Leatherwood Road. The fire was so intense it destroyed most of the evidence at the scene, and the Greenup County Sheriff’s Department spent nearly five years investigating the murders of Long and Willis.

Royster was indicted in 2010 and had been the only one charged. However, investigators say they always believed others were involved, but couldn’t prove it until Royster agreed to testify against the others.

According to Royster’s attorney, James Lyon Jr., Royster will be eligible to meet with the parole board after he had served 20 percent, or roughly 53 months, of his sentence. He has already served about half that, having been in custody since Dec. 17, 2010, meaning he will be parole-eligible in a little more than two years. However, studies have shown most Kentucky offenders don’t make parole the first time they seek it.

Prior to Conley pronouncing sentence, an emotional letter written by a family member of one of the victims was read into the record. One of the purposes of doing so, according to its author, was so it will be there for the parole board to read in the future when Royster goes before it.

The letter was written by Long’s sister, Pamela Bryant. Commonwealth’s Attorney Melvin Leonhart said Bryant was too emotional to read it herself, so her son, Charles Bryant, 25, who’s home on leave from the Army after serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, read it for her.

In the letter, Pamela Bryant said her brother’s murder had caused unimaginable pain for her and her family, particularly her father, whom she said was still too grief-stricken to visit his son’s gravesite.

Bryant described her brother in the letter as a kind, loving and generous man “who would give anyone the shirt off his back.” The fact Royster, someone he had liked and trusted, was one of his killers made his death particularly hard to accept, she wrote.

According to Bryant’s letter, Long’s body was so badly burned it to be identified through DNA testing, and there was so little left of him the director of the funeral home that handled his arrangements suggested the family bury his remains in a casket intended for a baby. However, Bryant said she refused to do that.

Bryant said her father asked her to oversee her brother’s funeral arrangements, telling her: “You should never have to make arrangements for your own children.”

Bryant also said the fact the family was unable to have an open-casket funeral for Long and had never seen his body had deprived them of a sense of closure, which made it all the more difficult to terms with his death.

“When an eye for an eye means giving up one’s soul to anger, it’s best to give it up to justice and to God,” the letter stated.

Royster showed no emotion as Charles Bryant was reading his mother’s letter. Afterwards, Lyon said his client was remorseful for his actions, and had “done what he has to do to try to make it right,” including cooperating with authorities and giving them “hours and hours” of statements.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Local in brief: 7/23/14

    The inaugual Ride for Autism will be Aug. 23, starting and ending at Callihan’s American Pub & Grill at the Kyova Mall, including a stop at Carter Caves State Resort Park.

    July 22, 2014

  • 0723trailtown.jpg First lady recognizes Morehead Trail Town status

    Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear said Morehead’s achievement in finally reaching “Trail Town” certification exemplifies the strength and dedication of the small town community during her address Tuesday at the Rowan County Arts Center.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • McConnell co-sponsors bill to protect correctional officers

    U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell co-sponsored legislation to help protect correctional officers and staff at Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities.

    July 22, 2014

  • 0723copshots1.JPG Focus on law enforcement

    Members of several local and regional law enforcement agencies hit the streets of downtown Ashland Tuesday armed with digital cameras and assignment sheets as they completed in-service photography instruction through the Department of Criminal Justice.

    July 22, 2014 3 Photos

  • Obama admin. says health subsidies will continue

    A federal appeals court delivered a potentially serious setback to President Barack Obama's health care law Tuesday, imperiling billions of dollars in subsidies for many low- and middle-income people who bought policies.

    July 22, 2014

  • State’s longest trail system turns 35

    The Sheltowee Trace was officially dedicated as part of the National Recreation Trail system in 1979. After 35 years, the trail remains Kentucky’s longest distance trail, estimated at 307 miles.
     

    July 21, 2014

  • Pancake releases new album

    The top of the Sky Tower in downtown Ashland was booming Saturday night with music from Larry Pancake’s new album “Fair Weather Friend.”
     

    July 21, 2014

  • Telephone scammer fleeces man of $5,000

    A telephone scammer claimed another area victim when a Williams Avenue man paid $5,000 after the con artist told him he had won a sweepstakes but had to pay taxes on the prize money before collecting it, according to Ashland Police Department reports.
     

    July 21, 2014

  • Murder defendant pleads guilty on lesser charge, sentenced to 8 years

    One of four charged with murder in a 2008 double killing pleaded guilty to a lesser charge Monday just before his trial was to start.

    July 21, 2014

  • MIA Rush Marine to rest in Arlington

    Finding Dottie McCoy’s uncle after 71 years was the biggest part of the struggle.

    July 21, 2014