Part 4: Exclusive Eyewitness News iTeam series, 'A family's search for closure'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) —
One of the key players in the convictions of kidnapper and murderer Mark Hanna was the prosecutor, Harry Deitzler.
Deitzler prosecuted Hanna in the 1980s and won a kidnapping conviction and was a special prosecutor in the 1990s when Hanna was found guilty of first-degree murder. But the long history between the men of being on opposite sides in the courtroom didn't matter when Hanna reached out to Deitzler through the mail.
“I would do that with anybody. When somebody asks me a question, for 42 years people ask me a question and I try to give them an answer. Mark wrote to me and I wrote back. He asked for certain things about his case, I provided what I had,” Deitzler said.
For decades, Hanna and Deitzler have corresponded with one another. Hanna from his cell at Mount Olive, Deitzler from his Charleston office. Each time the lawyer wrote the prisoner, he implored him to do the right thing and tell authorities where he buried his victim, Leslie Marty. But Hanna never took that advice.
“I think it took a long time because initially Mark wanted to gain something. Over the course of those years, Mark was trying to figure out a way to get back out of prison. I think that Mark has realized that he is where he is and it's time to do the right thing,” Deitzler said.
In addition to Hanna, Deitzler also kept in touch with Leslie's sister and mother. That is just one reason he said it was important to stay in touch with Hanna, because of the possibility the inmate would do the right thing.
“It's not a surprise, as you know from the letters that you've seen back and forth, Mark had told me a long time ago that eventually he would let us know where she is. My reaction is that, thank goodness for her mother,” Deitzler said.
Although Hanna ignored Deitzler's attempts to reveal Leslie's whereabouts, the former prosecutor still wrote a letter on the inmate's behalf.
“He had asked for some sort of letter to the parole board and to respond in good faith. I told him I can do that for you. No strings attached, I'll put it right in the letter. The primary reason was because I wanted that for Leslie's mother. I mean if she was not involved, if Leslie and Angela weren't involved, I'd have said there's nothing I can do for you,” Deitzler said.
Of course, Hanna eventually did give up Leslie's final resting place, telling the Eyewitness News iTeam where she was buried. That allowed investigators to recover her remains and return them to her family. But that would not have been possible without the intervention of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice.
Eyewitness News had reached out to the West Virginia Division of Corrections for permission to interview Hanna. We were told no several times. Then we went to the governor, who related the situation surrounding Leslie's death to a much more recent tragedy, the 2016 flood.
“The flood still is with me. It's single-handedly the worst event that I've ever been around. We were missing a little 14-year-old, beautiful little girl, her name is Mykala Phillips. And I knew just how much the family had to be just really hurting. Really, really hurting. It went on for weeks and weeks, about six weeks. I prayed many times that somehow just some way the good Lord would just let me see where she was. You know, and just maybe I could get out and go to her to try to some way give the family closure,” Justice said.
Justice said returning Mykala to her family was the right thing to do. And so was taking the chance that talking to Hanna could bring relief to Leslie's loved ones.
“I know the family had to be thinking that there's just no hope. But there's always hope. I'm sure the family's still sad. But it does give the family comfort, comfort that she's home now and that's meaningful,” Justice said.
With Justice signing off on the interview, Hanna held up his end of the bargain. He told us where to look for Leslie and she was found. The governor's faith in a possible positive outcome was rewarded.
“Well, I surely don't need any thanks. I mean, it's a tragic situation that's happened to a family but you're right, we do have funerals for a reason. And if this in fact helps that family then we've done it for the right reason,” Justice said.
Friday night on Eyewitness News at 6, hear from Hanna ,who talks about his time behind bars and his next court action. Also hear from Leslie's mother and sister as they discuss what they think about Hanna ever getting out of prison.