Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 8, 2013

Double murder defendants plead not guilty

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

GREENUP — Four defendants recently implicated in a 2008 double murder and arson made their first court appearances on Thursday.

Chrissie Bertram-Royster, 24, Sammy E. Bertram, 23, Willie Burns, 24, and Ashley Craft, 23, all of Garrison, were arraigned before Greenup Circuit Judge Bob Conley.

Bertram-Royster, Bertram and Burns are each charged with two counts of capital murder and one count of first-degree robbery, first-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence. They entered not-guilty pleas to those charges. Craft pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery.

Betram-Royster, Bertram and Craft were all represented at Thursday’s arraignments by public defender Sam Weaver. Weaver indicated he would be representing only one of the defendants and attorneys from other Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy field offices would be brought in for the other two.

Betram-Royster, Betram and Burns are in the Greenup County Detention Center. Conley ordered the defendants’ bonds of $1 million each be continued. Craft is free on bond.

Conley also scheduled a pretrial conference for May 2.

Bertram-Royster, Bertram and Burns could get the death penalty or life in prison if they are convicted.

The charges against the four stem from the Feb. 23, 2008, slayings of Jeffrey Long, 45, and Pamela Willis, 21. Their bodies were discovered inside Long’s burned-out 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 slayings. The final pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place when another defendant, Mitchell Royster, 26, of Garrison, agreed to provide authorities with information about the murders and testify against the others involved as part of a plea deal.

Royster, who was indicted in 2010, had been the only person charged in the murders.

Royster, who was originally charged with two counts of murder and one count of arson, pleaded guilty last month to two counts of second-degree manslaughter, one count of facilitation to first-degree arson and one count of conspiracy to commit first-robbery. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison on Feb. 7.

Royster, Chrissie Betram-Royster’s husband, 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.

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