Jan McKinley Williams

PRINCETON — A judge rejected a plea agreement Tuesday and set a trial date in the case of a Mercer County man who had pleaded guilty last May to second-degree murder in the October 2018 shooting death of a Princeton man.

Jan McKinley Williams Jr., 25, was scheduled for a disposition hearing before Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope. McKinley pleaded guilty May 28 to second-degree murder in the Oct. 28, 2018 death of 29-year-old Jason Varney, who was shot twice outside a Kee Street home in Princeton.

Williams was facing first-degree murder when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, which carries a possible sentence of 10 to 40 years in prison. In West Virginia, first-degree murder has a possible life sentence unless the jury recommends mercy; parole is then possible within 15 years, but not guaranteed.

Swope had been informed that Varney’s family had opposed the plea agreement. Family members spoke to the judge and spoke of the grief they had suffered after the shooting.

“They don’t eat no more, they don’t sleep,” one man said. “Really, 40 years and take a life. That’s not right. Forty years is nothing. He (Jason Varney) wasn’t totally innocent, but he didn’t deserve to die.”

The shooting occurred after Williams received counterfeit money during a drug transaction with Varney, according to Assistant Prosecuting Attorney David Pfeifer.

Varney had two counterfeit $100 bills were found in Varney’s possession and Williams had one, Detective Lt. Eric Pugh testified at a preliminary hearing. All three bills had the same serial numbers and what appeared to be “small but distinct” Chinese writing on their backs. Text messages between Williams and Varney contained “mostly drug-related messages.” Based on the messages, Williams had been “shorted” during a previous drug deal.

Varney had paid Williams “fake money for drugs,” Pfeifer said. Varney had been shot once in the back and once in his side.

Pfeifer said the state had looked at all evidence in the case and that it had some weaknesses. Williams did not go to Kee Street and plan to fire a weapon, but “went there for negotiation to rectify the situation.”

After hearing the family’s statements, Swope rejected the plea agreement. Swope told the family that there was no way to determine what sort of verdict a jury could reach after hearing the how the case involved “a drug deal gone bad.” They could convict Williams of a lesser offense such as involuntary manslaughter or even find him not guilty.

“There’s nothing to celebrate,” Swope said. “A man is dead...there is no joy and nothing to celebrate on either side.”

Swope set a trial date for Nov. 12 and a motions hearing on Oct. 15. Williams is being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

Williams was indicted in June 2016 on a charge of accessory after the fact related to the January 2016 shooting death of a Bluefield man outside the Quality Inn off Route 460 in Bluefield. That charge was later dismissed, Pfeifer said.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com