A federal court jury convicted an Indiana man Thursday on a federal firearm charge, which stemmed from an investigation into the 2017 killing of three people on Deep Branch Road in Whitley County.
The two-day trial ended Thursday with a U.S. District Court Jury in London convicting Anthony Hester, 34, of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
On Aug. 17, 2017, Hester possessed a Colt .38 caliber detective special revolver in Whitley County, according to his federal court indictment.
Hester, Darnel Chivers, 39, and Jeremy Hatfield, 35, who are all from Indiana, are charged with three counts of murder in the strangulation deaths of Robert Mack “Little Man” Kennedy III, who had just turned 16 years old; his mother, Emogene Ormae Bittner, 36; and her husband and Kennedy’s stepfather, Christopher Michael Bittner, 24, who were all found dead on Sept. 13, 2017, at a 1602 Deep Branch Road residence.
The killings are believed to have taken place on Sept 11 or 12, 2017, and drug involvement is suspected as a partial motive in the case, Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird said previously.
The trio is also charged with first-degree burglary and tampering with physical evidence. Hatfield also faces charges of receiving stolen property-firearm and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon in connection with the Whitley County case.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Chivers and Hester, but not against Hatfield, who has cooperated with investigators.
Hatfield made an appearance Monday morning in Whitley Circuit Court where Judge Paul Winchester scheduled a Dec. 17 trial date in his murder case although no trial is expected to actually take place on that date.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Bowling asked for a trial date to be set in order to speed up laboratory testing by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which helped investigate the case.
“We are trying to expedite ATF lab processing. Part of their protocol is that when they have a trial date set, the testing for DNA, fibers, tool marks and things like that go to the front of the line,” Bowling noted.
Hatfield previously had a May 22, 2019, trial date set for the same purpose, but no trial was held.
U.S. District Judge Claria Horn Boom has scheduled a Dec. 17 sentencing hearing for Hester, who faces up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release on the federal firearms charge. If it is determined that Hester has three prior convictions for a violent felony or serious drug offense, then he could face up to 15 years in prison, not more than a $250,000 fine, and not more than five years of supervised release.
Chivers is also facing a federal court charge, which stemmed from the Deep Branch Road slaying investigation.
Chivers was originally indicted on Jan. 24, 2019, in U.S. District Court on a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon for allegedly having a Hi-Point Luger C9 9mm caliber pistol in his possession on May 20, 2017, in Laurel County, according to his indictment.
He is currently scheduled to stand trial Nov. 5 in U.S. District Court in London.
If convicted, he faces the same penalties as Hester.
Chivers has announced plans to represent himself in the murder case, and is fighting an attempt by prosecutors to collect his DNA for testing, and comparisons to DNA samples taken from scene of the killings.