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Friday, October 23, 2009

Murder motive is still a mystery

WHEELING - Wheeling police on Monday arrested Jarell L. Hurt for the murder of Ashley Blankenship. Now, they are trying to figure out why she was killed.

Ohio County Magistrate Joe Roxby on Tuesday arraigned Hurt, 21, on a charge of murder via teleconference from the Northern Regional Jail. He is accused of killing the 19-year-old Blankenship on Sept. 13 with a single gunshot to the back of the head in the North Park apartment in which he was staying.

A warrant was secured Monday for Hurt's arrest. The murder suspect turned himself into authorities later that night. He is being held in the Northern Regional Jail.

On Tuesday, Wheeling's acting police chief, Lt. Mike VanKirk, said investigators are confident the man who killed Blankenship is Hurt, but they still are working to determine a motive.

"We are sure (Hurt is the murderer) or we wouldn't have gotten the arrest warrant," VanKirk said. "At this point, we still don't know a motive, unfortunately. You would like to know why someone lost their life, but there is no good reason."

Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith on Tuesday declined to comment on a potential motive in the case. He noted, however, that the case still is being investigated.

VanKirk said the investigation still may reveal the reason for Blankenship's slaying. He said there still is much to learn regarding the relationship, if any, between Hurt and the woman he is accused of killing.

"There are a lot of questions to be answered, and I believe they will be answered before this case is closed," VanKirk said. "I don't know the intimate details or if they knew each other before. ... We are not giving up hope on learning the reason why."

Smith and VanKirk said Tuesday they were not aware of the extent of Hurt's criminal background. VanKirk said he believes Monday's arrest was the first felony charge the murder suspect has faced.

Hurt requested a court-appointed attorney during his arraignment. He now may choose to have a preliminary hearing in Ohio County Magistrate Court or he can wait for the case to be presented to an Ohio County grand jury. Hurt will remain in jail pending a circuit court bond hearing.

According to the criminal complaint in the case, Blankenship's body was found inside an apartment at 39 Eagle Ave. Responding officers found the body lying beside a couch in the living room with a gunshot wound to the head. Blankenship was identified through a cellular telephone found at the scene and by the word "Ash" tattooed on her body.

A witness reportedly told police she and Blankenship were together at a 15th Street residence prior to the murder. The witness said Blankenship had been speaking to and texting another individual throughout the night and Blankenship later left the home in that individual's car.

At a later date, the complaint notes, the individual said he and Hurt took Blankenship to the Eagle Avenue apartment. He said Blankenship was sitting on the arm of a couch when Hurt shot her in the head.


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