Suspect in Trooper's Shooting Hangs Himself, Police Say




HARRISVILLE (AP) - A Ritchie County man scheduled to go on trial next month on charges he killed a state trooper hanged himself with a bed sheet in his jail cell, state police said Monday. Dennis Ferguson, 68, of Pullman had been in the Ritchie County Jail without bond since his arrest April 9 on a first-degree murder charge in the shooting of Trooper Larry Hacker, 34, of Harrisville.

"He had torn up pieces of his bed sheet and tied them together and then tied it to a bar in the shower area in his cell," said Sgt. Randy Blevins in Paden City. Ferguson was found dead about 7:10 a.m. Sunday by a deputy who was serving breakfast. Other in-mates were in adjacent cells, but no one heard anything, Blevins said.

Officials said the cells usually are checked every 30 minutes, and Blevins said Ferguson apparently had been dead less than an hour. State Medical Examiner Dr. Irvin Sopher said Monday he ruled the death a suicide due to hanging.

Sheriff Mike Burwell was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment, said a man who answered the telephone at the sheriff's department.

Hacker and Trooper S.J. Verdow had gone to Ferguson's home April 8 after a neighbor complained Ferguson had blocked the single-lane gravel road to his house with a pickup truck. When the troopers and Ritchie County deputies arrived, the truck was gone and there were no lights on at the home, police said.

Verdow testified during a preliminary hearing that Hacker was peering around a storage shed about 75 feet from Ferguson's home when he was struck in the chest. Ferguson surrendered several hours later from a hiding spot in woods above his home, police said.

Telephone messages to prosecutor David Hanlon and to Keith White, Ferguson's attorney, were not immediately returned Monday.

State Police Superintendent Thorn Kirk declined comment.

"People are surprisingly silent over it," said Blevins, who gave the eulogy at Hacker's funeral. "It's a hard thing to comment on. We lost a fellow trooper out there that was a very good officer, well respected by his community. He left a loving wife and two daughters behind."

Neighbors had said Ferguson lived alone and liked to harass others, often by firing his gun into the air.

"They just feel like it saved the taxpayers from going ahead with this trial and keeping him in prison for life," said Annie Langford, 71, of Pullman; "He was always trying to do mean things to people. He just ended a big problem."