Hughes found guilty of first-degree murder
ONLINE EXTRA: Jason Shane Plaster’s daughters wrote letters that were presented by the prosecution in court Thursday. The victim impact statements include a one-page letter from one daughter and a three-page letter from the other daughter.
BY KEITH EPPS / THE FREE LANCE–STAR
A Stafford County jury Thursday convicted William Hughes of first-degree murder and recommended that he serve 27 years in prison.
The jury decision came early on the fourth day of Hughes’ trial in Stafford Circuit Court.
Hughes, 45, will be formally sentenced by Judge Michael Levy on Oct. 1.
Hughes was one of three people involved in the July 2007 slaying of 31-year-old Jason Shane Plaster, whose remains were dug up last March at 881 Belle Plains Road in southern Stafford. The multi-acre tract near Potomac Creek belongs to one of the codefendants in the case, Dennis Paul Benzie.
Police began digging for Plaster after Benzie told Stafford Detective Sgt. Chris Cameron about the 2007 slaying. Benzie, who had just been arrested on drug and firearms charges at the time of his confession, testified against Hughes, as did the other codefendant, Stuart Lee Sullivan.
Sullivan has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and will be sentenced on Sept. 25.
Benzie got a deal in which he will not be charged with murder, though he is still facing drug charges.
Before deliberating Hughes’ sentence Thursday, jurors heard emotional letters from Plaster’s daughters, who are now between the ages of 10 and 13. A number of people in the courtroom cried as details about how Plaster’s slaying affected his family were read aloud.
One child wrote about how Plaster’s three children ended up in foster care because their mother couldn’t take care of them without Plaster’s help. She said they were abused by a relative they were living with before ending up in different foster-care homes.
They said it was especially devastating to learn that Hughes, a man they referred to a “Uncle Bill,” was his killer.
“No, my father wasn’t a perfect man, but our love for him was perfect,” one child wrote to Hughes. “You set off a chain reaction of misery for my family.”
The other wrote that the sisters went through four years of abuse before one of them jumped from a balcony and broke her leg in an effort to get attention from a neighbor. The neighbor called police and the girls were removed from the home.
“You destroyed my family. You destroyed my life ….” she wrote. “I hate you!“
One daughter suggested that Hughes seek forgiveness from God because she didn’t know if she could forgive him.
Benzie and Sullivan testified that Hughes shot Plaster with a Derringer and Sullivan followed with several shots from his 9mm gun. A 9mm round was in the back of Plaster’s skull when it was recovered.
Both men said Hughes told them that he was upset with Plaster because he had exposed himself to Hughes’ wife and tried to have sex with his daughter.
There were some significant variances in the two men’s stories. For example, Benzie claimed that he, Sullivan and Hughes had plotted to lure Plaster into the woods under the pretense of digging up some buried firearms.
Sullivan claimed he knew nothing of the murder plot until Hughes fired the initial shot. He said he fired because Hughes told him to and he feared repercussions to himself and his family if he didn’t. Hughes’ motorcycle gang connections were referred to a number of times during the trial.
Hughes acknowledged being the president of the Prince William chapter of the Warlock Motorcycle Club.
Hughes testified that he had no involvement in Plaster’s death and had no idea why Benzie and Sullivan—two men he considered friends—would say that he did.
Defense attorney Chris Feldmann pointed out the inconsistencies in the primary witnesses’ stories and said there was considerable reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors Lori DiGiosia and Ed Lustig disagreed, saying there was no reason for either witness to falsely implicate Hughes.
“The only reason that they would say that Bill Hughes was there that day was because he was,” DiGiosia said. “It was his plan to kill Jason Plaster, and he carried it out.”
Keith Epps: 540/374-5404