TAYLOR COUNTY—After years of waiting, one local family may have a little more closure, after their loved one was murdered two summers ago.
Just over two years after the shooting death of 39-year-old Grafton resident Frank Newbraugh, the second defendant in the case was sentenced for his crimes.
Justin E. Clark, 29, of Fairmont, who was originally charged with first-degree murder, entered a guilty plea to the lesser included offense of second-degree murder in January for his actions in the death of Newbraugh.
The entry of the guilty plea came with the knowledge that Clark was facing a determinate sentence of anywhere between 10 and 40 years in prison.
On Monday, Taylor County Circuit Court convened as Judge Alan D. Moats prepared to hand down Clark’s sentence.
According to testimony by Clark during his plea hearing, he and his co-defendant, Samantha Dakon, picked up Newbraugh for an alleged drug transaction. While in the vehicle, where four children were present, there were numerous altercations between Newbraugh, Dakon and Clark.
According to Clark, during one of the altercations, where he claimed Newbraugh was strangling Dakon, he pulled out a gun and shot him, to help free her from Newbraugh’s grasp.
Once shot, Dakon instructed Clark to help her push the victim out of the car. Clark claims that he did not know at the time that Newbraugh was fatally wounded but recalled seeing him stand and stagger as Dakon sped off.
Newbraugh’s body was found later that evening, alongside Riverside Drive, where Clark revealed he had been pushed out of the car following the shooting.
It is reported that the couple then purchased cleaning supplies and attempted to hide any evidence that the crime had taken place in the vehicle. According to Sheriff Terry A. Austin, the couple then checked into a hotel, before returning to their residence.
Unfortunately for Dakon and Clark, Austin was able to track down the duo and they were brought in for questioning, and an investigation was launched.
Judge Moats noted during Monday’s hearing that throughout the course of the investigation, Clark and Dakon refused to cooperate with authorities.
“Both you and your co-defendant took multiple actions to cover up your misdeeds, even to the point of marrying one another to keep from having to testify against one another through marital privilege,” Moats voiced. “Now, the two of you are pointing fingers at one another as the main culprit.”
He said at the end of it all, the bottom line was that Clark and Dakon had left Newbraugh by the roadside to die.
“You committed a murder in a vehicle where four children were present, you attempted to clean the vehicle and then you made a conscious effort to dispose of the murder weapon,” Moats said. “Luckily, Sheriff Austin was able to pierce through the lies and find the truth and was able to bring charges against the two of you.”
Austin said the investigation process was thorough and his office, along with a team from the West Virginia State Police made sure to document the search of the vehicle carefully.
“There are many, many hours that go into searching through the evidence to make sure we address everything pertinent to the case. We knew the case had to be strong, so my guys were instructed not to take any shortcuts,” he revealed.
During the hearing, Clark had the opportunity to address the court and Newbraugh family. With tear-filled eyes, he told them that if he could take back is actions, he would and that he would have never gotten involved with Dakon.
“I’d like to tell the Newbraugh family that I am very sorry for what happened. I’ve lost my kid. I’ve lost it all,” Clark said. “I will take my punishment and serve my time and one day get out to be with my family again.”
His defense council, Kevin Tipton said that while this case was very difficult and was a tragedy for all involved, he would be asking that the court take into consideration the lack of criminal history by his client.
“He is not a career criminal, so I am asking that he be sentenced to less than the maximum penalty of 40 years. We are asking that he be sentenced to 20 years,” Tipton commented. “Mr. Clark accepts responsibility for his actions and is remorseful. He regrets what happened.”
In turn, Taylor County Prosecuting Attorney John Bord countered that due to the severity of the crime, the state would be asking for the maximum sentence allowed by law, a 40-year term.
Newbraugh’s step-father was present to address the court and noted that no matter what, Frank would never be coming home to them and that was done at the hands of Clark and Dakon.
“I believe that Justin and Samantha had ill intent. They connived and lied and tried to make up stories. The had no care if Frank lived or died,” Carl Newbraugh addressed the court. “They tried to tell stories from day one and never told the truth of what really happened.”
After hearing from all parties involved, Moats told Clark that he had already received mercy in the case, to help keep the children from having to come in a testify, forcing them to relive what happened.
He ordered that Justin Clark would serve 40 years in prison for the murder of Newbraugh, with credit for time already served.
“We knew we had to build a tight case in order to bring justice to the Newbraugh family. And without having the murder weapon, we knew it was going to make things harder for us,” said Austin. “By properly handling evidence, being able to build the case and recreate what happened on that night, I believe we were able to.”
Austin further revealed that although Clark and Dakon have both been sentenced in the death of Newbraugh, aspects of the case are still under investigation and further arrests may be forthcoming.