Board hears case against Epperly

Justin Griffith
Commonwealth Attorney Justin Griffith

Staff Report

This coming June 28 will mark the 44th year since the murder of Gina Renee Hall.

The 18-year-old Hall was last seen alive leaving the Marriott Hotel in Blacksburg in the company of Stephen Matteson Epperly. The two drove to a house on Claytor Lake where, sometime after midnight, Hall was killed by Epperly.

Six months later, in early December of 1980 Epperly was found guilty of first-degree murder, becoming the first person in Virginia to be convicted of first-degree murder in a case in which there was no body, confession or eye-witness.

Epperly, 28 at the time was sentenced to life in prison in the precedent-setting case.

As for Hall, her body to this day has not been found.

Once again Epperly is up for parole. And once again a number of people took the opportunity to speak to the Virginia Parole Board on the need to keep Epperly behind bars.

Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney Justin Griffith was one of those who spoke and he offered this statement:

“As I have previously told this county, I am committed to ensuring that the voices of our county are heard on the matter of Stephen Epperly’s parole. Today, our office, along with others, had the opportunity to speak with the Virginia Parole Board regarding the potential release of Stephen Epperly to parole.

“When meeting with the Board, I had the honor of introducing Dlana Bodmer, Gina Hall’s sister, “as someone whose constant pursuit to uphold justice for her sister really needs no introduction.” The Parole Board also had the opportunity to hear from Everett Shockley, the prosecutor of Stephen Epperly. I informed the board that he is among the prosecutors that came before me and one of many whose shoulders I stand on today. I firmly believe that but for his foresight and determination in the courtroom 40 years ago, Stephen Epperly would have gone unpunished and we would not be here today.

“I took the time to explain to the board the current position of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office regarding his potential release.

“At the outset, I advised them that we believe the determination of Stephen Epperly’s parole is something that Gina Hall’s family, Mr. Shockley; and the community as a whole deserve to be a part of. They all deserve to know that their voices will be heard through this office by the parole board.

“When I travel, professionally or personally, I am frequently asked what is Southwest Virginias most valuable resource. Is it industry? Is it recreation? Is it educational opportunities? I told them that the answer is pretty simple. It is the people.

“The people of our community wrote countless letters in opposition of Stephen Epperly’s parole.  All of the community members who submitted letters expressed not only fear for the safety of the public if Stephen Epperly is released, but also the general sentiment that “this is not a matter of punishment, it is a matter of protecting human lives and upholding our country and states system of order.” We also received input from the family of the late Austin Hall. He was the lead investigator in the Stephen Epperly case and was present at the last parole review hearing. It was an honor to shake his hand. They urged the parole broad not to release Stephen Epperly and reminded the board of the important and difficult work he put into the search for the truth of what Stephen Epperly did to Gina Hall.

“I also had the opportunity to speak on behalf of our local representative Pulaski County House of Delegates Representative, Jason Ballard and to say that he stands with all of us and on behalf of our county in opposition to Stephen Epperly’s release. Delegate Ballard has shown me that great leaders negotiate from a position of strength, not weakness, and he wanted the parole board to know that, when they make the decision to deny his parole, our county will be united as strongly as ever. Our unity, on the position to deny his parole, is not something that the parole board should overlook.

“I am frequently reminded by others that this crime took place before I was born, but I assured the parole board that that is of no consequence to me. But what is of consequence to me? It is making sure everyone remembers the quest for truth that Austin Hall led and finished. It is making sure everyone remembers the quest for justice that Everett Shockley began and that our office continues to see through and will continue to see through until Epperly’s end. It is making sure the parole board understands that “this nightmare will never end for Gina Hall’s family until Stephen Epperly meets his maker.”

“A Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office should be a steward of safety for its county and that is exactly what we strive to be every day. And, in doing so, we always ask how today’s decision will affect our community tomorrow.

“There are some people that believe, everyone, no matter who, no matter what crime, deserves a chance at parole. They argue that if Stephen Epperly gets released, it is progress. If that is the progress you believe in, I am not your steward in this case. I would call his release a regression to evil.

“In closing, I told the Parole Board that I was raised on the rule to never destroy anyone in public when you can accomplish the same results in private. I believe I am justified in breaking that rule when I say that Stephen Epperly is not invited; not wanted; and damn sure not welcome back into our county.

“We will be informed when a decision has been made.”

-Justin L. Griffith, Commonwealth’s Attorney Pulaski County