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Respect For Marriage Act Protects Same-Sex Couples

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in Obergefell v Hodges ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The landmark decision finally awarded same-sex couples the same benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples.

Since then, an estimated 1.1 million gay and lesbian couples have married, and approval of those unions has continued to expand. A Gallup Poll earlier this year found that 71 percent of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage.

The long-standing controversy over same-sex marriage pretty much settled down. But then came U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson abortion decision earlier this year where Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion suggested the Court should reconsider the Obergefell decision and others.

Members of Congress who feared the high court might one day reverse Obergefell decided to take up the Respect for Marriage Act to codify legal same-sex unions. At first, Democratic backers saw this as a messaging bill, a way to make themselves look good with little expectation that it would pass. But then the measure started to gain Republican support.

The Senate passed the bill last month 61-36 with the support of 12 Republicans, including Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. (Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia also voted for the bill.) Capito said the bill “affirms that couples, including same-sex and interracial couples, deserve the dignity, stability, and ongoing protection of marriage.”

She also pointed out a key exemption for non-profit religious organizations so that they are not required to provide goods or services to formally recognize or celebrate a marriage.

The bill now had momentum, and it advanced to the House with time winding down in the lame-duck session. It passed Thursday 258-169 with 39 Republicans. All three of West Virginia’s Republican Representatives—David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller—voted against the bill. The bill now goes to President Biden, who is expected to sign it.

Ted Olson is one of the country’s leading conservative advocates for same-sex marriage. The former Solicitor General under President George W. Bush co-authored an opinion piece with Kenneth Mehlman in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year in support of the Respect for Marriage Act.

“These (same-sex) families have relied on decisions affirming their right to marry and its accompanying protections: custody of children, healthcare decisions, right of survivorship, tax status, immigration status and more,” they wrote. “It would be cruel and unconscionable if these expectations and committed relationships were undermined or extinguished.”

It is impossible to know what the Supreme Court may do in the future, but the Respect for Marriage Act at least codifies the will of the majority through their elected representatives that is consistent with the values of freedom and families.


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Marshall holds off Duquesne 82-71 for eighth straight win

— By David Walsh

Marshall put together some textbook basketball in the last five minutes of the first half to take a 46-27 lead over Duquesne in Thursday night’s game at UMPC Conner Fieldhouse in Pittsburgh.

The Dukes, as the Thundering Herd expected, made charge after charge in the second half to claw back, but the visitors had answers for each one and chalked up the win, 82-71.

Tre Williams had a layup with 5:06 left in the first half to get the Dukes within three at 30-27. Marshall then closed out the half on a 16-0 run to lead by 19 at the break.

Tevin Brewer hit a three-pointer for the Atlantic 10 team with 5:00 left to get within four at 63-59 and Joe Reece had a layup with 2:47 to stay within striking distance at 70-65. However, the Herd (8-1) had enough resourcefulness each time to collect its eighth straight win and end Duquesne’s win streak at six. The Dukes are 7-2.

“They’re used to winning here,” Herd coach Dan D’Antoni said. “Hats off to our guys. Had runs come against us, but we pulled it back out. Shows you how good we can be. The end of the first half was really good, textbook basketball. We have to find a way to do that again.”

Taevion Kinsey led the Sun Belt Conference squad with 19 points. Andrew Taylor added 18, Kamdyn Curfman 14 (four threes), Wyatt Fricks 12 and Obinna Anochili-Killen 11. Micah Handlogten, the Herd’s 7-foot-1 freshman middle man, pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds.

The Herd remains in the Steel City area through the weekend as it plays at Robert Morris in the UMPC Events Center at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“It feels good,” Kinsey said of the streak. “Take advantage of this (not long road trip). Make sure we’re locked in. This is a business trip.

“Keep the momentum is very important. Finish strong whatever we see. Still keep humble is the mindset. 1-0 every game is the motto.”

As the Dukes made their runs, D’Antoni let his players battle through and learn.

“Trust the kids,” D’Antoni said. “Don’t think coaches have all the answers. We’ve taught them all year. It shows they have trust for you. We’re on the way there.”

Kinsey, Taylor and Anochili-Killen are three vets who endured a 12-21 season a year ago. Throw in newcomers Curfman, Handlogten, Fricks and Jacob Conner and the turnaround is set in motion.

“First they’re fun to watch,” D’Antoni said. “You pull for them. You treat them all the same (everyone on the staff). They’re all valuable, make you a better ball club.

“Andy and Taevion kind of started it. Then add those four. They lifted the feel for the game. They understand how to play. We’re real fortunate. They play a bunch of older-brand basketball.”

Curfman is a transfer from VMI and has more than fit in with his threat from outside. He expected Duquesne to make a run, but he believed the Herd would find the answers.

“They’re 7-1 for a reason,” Curfman  said. “We knew we’d have to make plays down the stretch and we did. Winning on the road is always tough no matter who you play.”

D’Antoni said Curfman had the right makeup to blend in.

“His personality is a lot of it,” D’Antoni said. “We needed that straw to stir. It’s working out. Kam, the new guys you don’t know what you’re getting. They’ve blended quicker than I thought. They’re fun to be around.”

Marshall led in points off turnovers, 22-8; points in the paint, 46-22; and fastbreak points, 18-5.

Jimmy Clark III led the Dukes with a career-high 19 points and Dae Dae Grant had 18.

This was Marshall’s first road game since Nov. 17.

Robert Morris, a member of the Horizon League, is 4-6 after winning Wednesday at Central Michigan, 71-66.

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West Virginia rolls by Robert Morris, 72-42

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After starting Thursday’s contest against Robert Morris in the fashion it hoped to, West Virginia went into a lull for much of the second and third quarters as the Colonials battled back and hung around around at the WVU Coliseum.

However, after Natalie Johnson’s jumper cut the Robert Morris deficit to 11 with inside 4 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Mountaineers asserted themselves to take complete control. West Virginia would score the next 17 points — including 14 unanswered to end the third quarter — and pull away for a 72-42 victory.

“It starts with us getting stops and we got out in transition and moved the ball pretty well and got some good shots,” WVU head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “Robert Morris makes it really tough to get early offensive looks and to sustain that offensive possession without screening. In that stretch, the post kids were rim-running and attacking the rim and that opens up different gaps for somebody else to attack.”

The Mountaineers improved to 7-1 with their third straight win, while the defensive-minded Colonials fell to 6-3.

Johnson’s bucket at the 3:51 mark of the third made it 40-29, and Robert Morris had outscored the Mountaineers by five points since the opening quarter at that point.

“We had stretches in that game where we played really good basketball,” Plitzuweit said, “and we had stretches where we got into lulls and didn’t score.” 

West Virginia then clamped down on the defensive end and used an aggressive offensive approach to consistently work its way to the free-throw line during a stretch that enabled the Mountaineers to open up a sizable advantage.

The first six of WVU’s 14 straight points to end the third came on free throws — four from JJ Quinerly and two from Danni Nichols.

“When you attack really well and get to the free-throw line, good things happen for you,” Plitzuweit said.

Following Nichols’ steal, Quinerly connected on a 3-pointer in transition to up the lead to 20. Jayla Hemingway added a triple on the Mountaineers’ next possession and two more free throws from Quinerly capped the scoring in the frame and sent WVU into the fourth leading 54-29.

“Just had to get stops on defense and move the ball on offense,” point guard Madisen Smith said. “The ball was kind of sticking a little bit and when that happens, there’s no flow within the offense.”

Before the Mountaineers pulled away for good, they got a jumper from Smith 4:33 into the second half that gave them a 38-27 lead. More notably, it brought Smith to 1,000 career points at West Virginia. She became the 39th player in program history to achieve the milestone, which came early in her fifth season with the Mountaineers.

“I’ve played with some of those players and I’m excited for it to happen,” Smith said. “Glad to put it behind me and look forward to winning games.”

Smith scored seven of her nine points in the opening quarter, before remaining stuck on seven as she missed all three of her second-quarter field-goal attempts.

“Of course it’s in my head,” she said. “Everybody is telling me, ‘you need nine points’, and I’m stuck at seven, like ‘when’s it going to happen?’”

“That’s a very big milestone,” Plitzuweit said. “Certainly credit to her for the way she has continued to grow and be someone who is in attack mode, but also be very willing to make an extra pass.”

Outside of the final 3 minutes of the third quarter, West Virginia played its best basketball in the opening period.

Rebecca Dwomoh’s 3-pointer at the 7:21 mark of the first quarter was the Colonials’ only field goal of the frame.

Not until Phoenix Gedeon’s jumper 2:01 into the second period did RMU record another field goal, and by that point, its deficit was 23-7.

“Our post defense was really good,” Plitzuweit said. “Post kids did a good job of getting around and making it difficult to get the ball inside.”

Smith’s seven first-quarter points paved the way for the Mountaineers to lead throughout, while Jayla Hemingway chipped in with five points and five rebounds.

After making nine first-quarter field goals, WVU went cold in the second and made only 4-of-15 shots as RMU battled back to trail 32-21 at halftime.

But after WVU took complete control with its strong closure to the third, the Colonials never got closer than 21 over the fourth quarter.

WVU’s Kyah Watson scored seven of her game-high 16 points in the final period. Watson made 7-of-11 shots in her first double-digit scoring effort as a Mountaineer.

“My teammates and the coaches have both expressed to me being more aggressive on the offensive end,” Watson said, “so that was something to focus on in this game.”

Hemingway added a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds. 

“This was the best practice week Jayla’s had,” Plitzuweit said.

Quinerly scored 11 points, including nine in the second half. She also added seven rebounds as the Mountaineers held a decisive 50-31 edge on the glass, including 19-7 in offensive rebounds.

Gedeon was RMU’s lone double-figure scorer with 11 points. Dwomoh added nine in defeat.

The Colonials were held to 15-of-54 shooting, including 4 of 22 on triples.

“I was really pleased with our energy level this week in practice and our aggressiveness was really good tonight,” Plitzuweit said. “I know we’re getting better and that’s really fun to see.”

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Update: Arrest made in Beckley shooting death

UPDATE 10:44 p.m. Thursday- Beckley police report taking Thompson into custody without incident on Grant Street. She was taken to the Southern Regional Jail.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Police in Beckley have secured an arrest warrant in a recent shooting death.

Aredith “NayNay” Thompson

Authorities said Thursday they are looking for Aredith “NayNay” Thompson in connection with the Nov. 23 shooting death of Juwan Greer.

Greer’s body was found at a residence on Truman Avenue in Beckley the day before Thanksgiving.

Detectives secured a warrant on first-degree murder Wednesday naming Thompson. They are seeking the public’s help in locating her.

Anyone with information on her whereabouts is urged to contact Detective Deems of the Beckley Police Department at 304-256-1720 or CrimeStoppers of West Virginia.

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New West Virginia manufacturer takes pride in turning metal into useful products

West Virginia officials today welcomed new development by an international manufacturer that turns steel and metal scrap into useful products.

Commercial Metals Company is building a micro mill in Berkeley County, with the capacity to produce 500,000 tons of straight-length rebar and a premium spooled rebar.

The state-of-the-art steel production micro mill is expected to open in late 2025. The company anticipates employing about 230 workers.

Barbara Smith

“The people of West Virginia will make the steel that builds America,” said Barbara Smith, chief executive of Commercial Metals, appearing for the announcement in Charleston.

During the search for a new location, she said, “Our instincts kept bringing us back to Berkeley County and West Virginia.”

The State of West Virginia will commit $75 million toward the half-billion-dollar project, a resolution that was on the agenda this morning for the West Virginia Economic Development Authority’s Board of Directors. The announcement is described as a high-impact development project.

Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice made a noon announcement about the project along with state Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael.

“It is absolutely off the chart the goodness they will bring,” Justice said on stage at the state Culture Center.

The governor also attended a state economic development meeting today that focused on the state’s financing portion of the project. Carmichael noted that the governor was there “because this is an incredibly auspicious occasion.”

The Berkeley County Council also briefly described the project during a meeting this morning. “The governor will be making an announcement on a business coming in today at noontime,” said Council President Doug Copenhaver. “They’ll be coming in to Berkeley County, so good news for the State of West Virginia and Berkeley County.”

Commercial Metals is a steel and metal manufacturer based in Irving, Texas. The company prides itself on using recycled steel, turning scrap into useful products. The company also touts its rate of using 82 percent less energy than traditional steelmaking while also cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions.

Commercial Metals has a network of facilities that includes seven electric arc furnace mini mills, two electric arc furnace micro mills, one rerolling mill, steel fabrication and processing plants, construction-related product warehouses, and metal recycling facilities in the United States and Poland.

Stock for the company has been on the rise, gaining more than 35 percent since the start of the year.

The company was founded in 1915 in Dallas by Moses Feldman as a scrap trading company.

West Virginia gained another major recycled steel company, Nucor, with an announcement earlier this year.

At the economic development authority meeting, a board member implored state officials to keep the development announcements coming.

“Interesting you mention that,” Carmichael replied,” because there may be some future announcements.”

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Critically ill patients to begin arriving at Thomas Hospital by helicopter

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — WVU Medicine President and CEO Albert Wright said he knew one fairly simple improvement that could made at Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston was to add a helipad.

Albert Wright

WVU Medicine is in the process of fully operating the Thomas Health System, the previously announced deal officially closes on Dec. 31. Wright said he knew if Thomas was going to take care of sicker patients it needed a better way of getting them to the hospital.

“Anyone that would come to Thomas by helicopter had to be transported by ground from Yeager Airport,” Wright said Thursday just after a ribbon cutting for the new helipad. “When you’ve got critically ill patients time is potentially life so we needed to have a mechanism here to get patients to the hospital.”

The helipad is located directly behind the hospital’s ER in what used to be a parking lot. A HealthNet Helicopter was parked there Thursday.

Wright said it’s the first of many changes coming to Thomas. They’ve already promised additional intensive care beds. He said changes to the ER are also under consideration.

“We’ve got some folks looking at how we can expand and improve our emergency department and if we’re successful in that vision in the next six months I’d like to be able to announce we are going to build out a bigger, newer emergency department,” Wright said.

Meanwhile, Wright said there’s already been a lot of improvement in recent months in areas that may not be readily visible to the public.

“We’ve got a couple of neurologists who are about to join us. We’re going to start a spine practice here. We just hired a great vascular surgeon, a great nephrologist. As we bring on more and more physician sub-specialties, we’ll have programmatic growth inside the hospital,” Wright said.

There’s a lot of competition in the health care hiring market but Wright said Thomas is doing well.

“We are hiring a lot of staff from nurses to lab techs to radiology technicians to environmental service workers–the leadership team here at Thomas is doing a spectacular job in going out and recruiting people,” Wright said.

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Bridgeport crash victim identified, may have suffered medical emergency

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Police have identified the body found in a crashed vehicle off Meadowbrook Road in Bridgeport on Nov. 21.

Police said driver Larry Gene Ice, 75, of Salem, may have suffered a medical emergency when his car went off Meadowbrook Road, across Custer Hollow and came to a rest on the back of the FBI property.

Bridgeport police have ruled out foul play and reckless driving.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to issue a final report.


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Morgantown firefighter retaliation case against city continued into 2023

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The ongoing dispute between the City of Morgantown and its union firefighters will stretch into next year.

The retaliation claim was filed against the city by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 313 following new personnel rules implemented July 1, 2022 after firefighters pursued lawsuits over holiday backpay and compensation in 2019.

The Fire Civil Service Commission granted the continuance requested Thursday based on a motion by the firefighters attorney to recall two prior witnesses, Morgantown City Manager Kim Haws and city Human Resource Director Jim Bihun.

Firefighters union attorney Joshua Miller told the commission testimony of Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli and changes to the new personnel policy made November 11, 2022 have created additional questions for both.

A request made by WAJR News for the specific changes made to the new personnel policy on November 11, 2022 has yet been honored.

The attorneys involved have agreed on 10 potential days in January and February for next hearing date to accommodate schedules of upcoming witnesses.

Each side will review the dates with upcoming witnesses from Morgantown, city council and members of the fire department, communicate back to the commission to schedule the next hearing date. Haws and Bihun will be the final witnesses to avoid an additional appearance before the commission or continuance of the litigation.

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FBI now involved in faux school shooting investigation; Monongalia County response praised

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State homeland security officials say there were a total of 19 hoax threats in 17 West Virginia counties during a sudden rash of 911 calls Wednesday.

Rob Cunningham

The caller reported an active shooting in progress at a local high school. Each report claimed the gunman was in the school and there were casualties. Officials stress all of the calls were a hoax.

The practice is called “swatting.” The story is  fabricated to illicit a large scale law enforcement response, often to the level of an agency’s SWAT team being dispatched to the scene. There have been similar incidents around the country to what happened Wednesday in West Virginia. The FBI is looking into all of the incidents. It’s believed at least some off those “swatting” calls originated overseas.

Despite the fear and panic the incidents created, state Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Rob Cunningham said the response in all cases by law enforcement was tremendous.

“The one very positive thing I want West Virginia citizens to know is we were ready and we’re better today than yesterday,” he said.

The response at South Charleston High School Wednesday. PHOTO: WCHS TV

The Department of Homeland Security in recent months has been working on Gov. Jim Justice’s safe schools program. The protocols implemented with the program were in place Wednesday as law enforcement rushed to the schools in those 17 counties ready to tackle whatever threat they found. Fortunately, they found nothing.

The incident may have terrified parents, teachers, and students, but according to Cunningham is was a great real world test for responders.

“We had a great response. Law enforcement did outstanding and communicated with the school systems. Looking back on it, this was a great dry run because we know where we are,” Cunningham said.

When the calls went out, parents rushed straight to the schools to get their kids. The move jammed the entrance and parking lots to many of the schools and in some cases hindered law enforcement.  Cunningham said he understood the fear and the response. He said it will require work.

“That’s a natural instinct. I get it. I’m a parent and that’s part of our school safety plan is the reunification process. That’s part of what we have to work on,” he said.

Monongalia County response praised 

Monongalia County Schools Deputy Superintendent Donna Talerico said fear quickly dissipates as extensive training takes over for staff and police.

Donna Talerico

Monongalia County MECCA 911 took a call at 8:58 a.m. Wednesday that there was an active shooter at Morgantown High School.

“We immediately go to our training, but the first few seconds of that shake you to your core,” Talerico said.

According to Talerico, police arrived in about one minute and quickly determined there were no gunshot victims and there was no intruder.

“They never hesitated to get there and address the situation, and of course the School Resource Officer (SRO) reached out to our director of safety,” Talerico said.

Monongalia County Schools Director of Safety Adam Henkins and Morgantown High School principal Paul Mihalko took the information from the SRO and police, then began to make sure students, parents, staff and residents of the nearby South Park neighborhood understood there were no injuries and the report was a hoax.

“We have our process very thoroughly in place so we can alleviate the fears of everyone involved,” Talerico said. “Thankfully, this was a hoax.”

Talerico said the Monongalia County Board of Education made secure entrances a requirement for all new buildings ten years ago and existing buildings have been reinforced as funding has become available. Additionally, staff participate in annual training scenarios to learn active shooter response procedures and how to help victims.

“We have secured entrances, we have SROs in our middle and high schools and we have had crisis planning with local law enforcement agencies,” Talerico said.

Talerico said safety has never been a “hard sell” to members of the Monongalia County Board of Education. According to Talerico, evidence of that is the response to this hoax.

“If it’s something that will add to the safety of our staff and students, and if it’s valid and valuable then we make that investment,” Talerico said. “Because there isn’t anything more important than our students and our staff.”

WAJR Reporter Mike Nolting contributed to this story. 

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Kanawha County teenager found guilty in shooting deaths of 4 family members

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Kanawha County jury convicted a teenager Thursday for the Dec. 2020 execution-style shooting deaths of four family members.

Gavin Smith (WVRJA)

Gavin Smith, 18, was found guilty on 3 counts of first-degree murder and 1 count of second-degree murder. The jury also convicted Smith on a firearms charge.

Smith shot and killed his mother, stepfather and two younger brothers on Dec. 9, 2020. The youngest was three-years-old.

The bodies of Risa Mae Saunders, 39, Daniel Dale Long, 37, Gage Ripley, 12, and Jameson Long, 3, were found a few days later in their Elkview area home on Cemetery Road.

The jury reached the second degree murder conviction in the death of Smith’s 12-year-old brother.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Kenneth Ballard who presided over the trial this week thanked the jury for their service before dismissing them Thursday afternoon.

“This has been a difficult case yet you’ve been consciousness and attentive throughout. You’ve sacrificed time from your work and families. You’ve performed your duties well,” Ballard said.

Smith, who was 16 at the time of the shootings, previously told deputies he was “overwhelmed” because he was homeschooled and his parents made him take care of his younger brother. Smith’s parents also kept padlocks on the inside back door and refrigerator.

The trial started on Monday. During Tuesday’s testimony, Smith’s ex-girlfriend Rebecca Walker, who is currently serving a 10 year prison term for helping Smith hide out, said Smith was frustrated his parents wouldn’t allow them to see each other. She said while they were on video chat on Dec. 9, 2020, she encouraged Smith to kill his family.

“I told him to hurry up and get it over with,” Walker testified.

Smith did not testify in his own defense.

Kanawha County detectives exit a house near Elkview on Dec. 13, 2020, where 4 people were killed including 2 children. (Photo/MetroNews)

Throughout the trial, the defense made it clear that Smith killed his family; however, they wanted the jury to decide whether it was considered first degree murder.

Both sides rested their cases Wednesday afternoon. The jury deliberated for about three hours Wednesday and three hours Thursday morning before the verdict was read just after 12 p.m. Thursday.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to comment.

Sentencing is set for Jan. 17, 2023 at 9 a.m.

Smith will automatically appear before the state Parole Board in 15 years because the crimes were committed when he was a juvenile.

MetroNews’ Jeff Jenkins contributed to this story.

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