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Coeburn man sentenced to 15 years for death of infant daughter

Mike Still • Jun 3, 2020 at 11:24 PM

WISE — A Coeburn man will serve 15 years in prison for the death of his infant daughter.

Nicholas Logan Plaster, 22, was sentenced in Wise County Circuit Court Wednesday to 25 years with 10 years suspended for the June 4, 2019 death of 7-week-old Nyah.

Plaster, who pleaded guilty in December to felony murder, was arrested last June 5, the day after he and the girl’s mother brought the unresponsive child to Mountain View Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Wise County Sheriff’s Office investigator Sgt. Charles Curry, testifying in Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, said that Plaster gave three versions of the events leading to Nyah’s death during a four-hour interview with county and Virginia State Police investigators on June 5, 2019. Excerpts from the video played in court and Curry’s testimony recounted Plaster first telling investigators that he had woken up to feed the girl around 6 a.m. while his girlfriend, Natasha Messer, went to a supermarket to buy more baby formula.

Plaster initially told Curry and other investigators that he had fallen asleep and awoke to find himself partially on Nyah. He said he saw milky fluid coming from the infant’s mouth and nose and tried to administer CPR when Messer returned from the store.

The couple then drove to Mountain View Hospital in Norton as Plaster kept trying CPR. They ran out of gas, but a passing motorist took them to the hospital.

Curry said he received a dispatch call that morning about the dead infant, and he headed to Mountain View, where he spoke with Plaster and Messer. After viewing the baby’s body and seeing no visible signs of injury, Curry said he asked the couple if they had been drinking and using drugs. Plaster said he would test positive for THC and agreed to take a drug screen at the hospital.

Curry said he was contacted later by Western District of Virginia Medical Examiner Gayle Suzuki, who advised him to investigate the death because of a brain bleed in the head and possible signs of battered child syndrome including healing broken ribs.

Curry later testified that Plaster changed his story after a polygraph to telling two versions of him playing video games around 2 a.m. and Nyah falling off his lap as he grabbed her and she flopped sharply in his hands.

Plaster also admitted later to drinking several beers and half of a fifth of whisky before the events leading to Nyah’s fall.

Asked about the healing ribs found in Nyah’s autopsy, Curry said, “He did tell me that there was a time he pulled the baby out of the bassinet and she cried harder than she had before.”

Glenda Plaster, Nicholas Plaster’s mother, cried as she testified that he had only gotten in trouble once in high school for smoking and had worked landscaping jobs with his aunt. Plaster met Messer when he was 16, and they later had a daughter before Nyah. The couple moved into his parents’ home while they were trying to earn money to fix a mobile home they had bought in Big Stone Gap, she said.

“He has another child who misses him dearly,” Glenda Plaster said.

Messer, who was in the courtroom throughout the hearing but did not testify, submitted a written victim impact statement to Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hamilton. The statement was not read aloud. 

Wise County and Norton Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp III asked Hamilton to sentence Plaster to 20 years. Felony murder carries a maximum 40-year term. Slemp quoted Plaster from the investigators’ interview: “I did kill my daughter from sheer irresponsibility and laziness.”

Brett Hall, Plaster’s attorney, complained about press reports of Plaster’s arrest and said he was “executed” before any trial.

“That’s what he’s going to be known as, the man who killed his child,” Hall said.

Plaster cried as he made a final statement, apologizing to investigators, his parents, Messer, Nyah and his surviving daughter.

“The one person who should have been there to protect (Nyah) failed her and took her life,” Plaster said, asking Hamilton for mercy to prove his sincerity.

After sentencing, Hamilton told Plaster, “You will have upon your release the opportunity to be the man you want to be.”

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