Meth dealer enters guilty plea in murder trial
  
By Abby Morris
STAR STAFF
amorris@starhq.com

  
An Elizabethton man charged with second-degree murder in the December 2000 death of Justin Vanover entered a guilty plea after having the charge plea bargained down to reckless homicide in Criminal Court Friday afternoon. Ralph "Mack" Myers, 115 Bluefield Ave., was sentenced to eight years in jail.
   Myers was originally charged with second-degree murder after Vanover, 23, died as the result of an overdose on methadone that he had gotten from Myers. Clifton Corker, Myers' attorney, worked out a plea bargain with the state to have the charge lowered to reckless homicide in exchange for a guilty plea.
   "They're letting you plead down from second-degree murder to reckless homicide," said Judge Robert Cupp, who presided over the plea. "They're letting you plead down from a Class A felony all the way down to a Class D felony."
   Myers told the court that at the time of Vanover's death, he was dating Vanover's mother, Susan Stansberry, and that he was participating in a methadone clinic.
   "I was going to the methadone clinic and he (Vanover) knew that I was going," Myers said.
   According to Myers, Vanover had a friend by the name of David who was undergoing treatment at the same clinic as Myers and that the week of the incident, David had been unable to attend his treatment session.
   "He asked me if he could have some methadone for David," Myers said. "I said, 'This is for your friend?' and he said 'Yes' and assured me that it was for David."
   Myers stated that he gave Vanover approximately 22 milligrams of methadone, which is less than one-fourth of the dosage that Myers was on at the time. Myers testified that after giving Vanover the methadone, he was unable to find the container he had kept his methadone in.
   The next day, Myers said, someone called him and Stansberry and told them that an ambulance was at Vanover's apartment. Myers said that he and Stansberry then went to Vanover's apartment and found the emergency crews attempting to revive Vanover.
   According to the findings on the autopsy ordered by investigators, Vanover died from a methadone overdose. Corker informed the court that a medical doctor was consulted by the defense and according to that doctor's findings, the amount of methadone given to Vanover by Myers was not enough to have resulted in an overdose.
   The original charge of second-degree murder could have carried a sentence of 15-25 years that would have been non-probatable, meaning that probation would not have been an option for alternative sentencing. Second-degree murder is defined in the Tennessee Code Annotated as "the knowing killing of another."
   The offense which Myers pleaded to, reckless homicide, carries a sentence of four-eight years and the court has the option of sentencing Myers to probation as an alternative sentence. The Tennessee Code Annotated states that reckless homicide occurs when a criminally negligent act occurs and that action was the cause of death.
   A co-defendant in the case involving the death of Vanover is Felicia English, who was Vanover's girlfriend at the time of his death. She is charged with criminally negligent homicide.
   According to her indictment, English acted with criminal neglect "by failing to render aid to Justin Vanover when Felicia English should have been aware of substantial and unjustifiable risk that death could occur..."
   English had a trial date set for February of this year, but the trial has been put on hold and a new court date has not yet been set.