Murder defendant Bass Webb pleads guilty; sentenced to 50 years

gkocher1@herald-leader.comSeptember 19, 2012 

FALMOUTH — After changing his mind about withdrawing a July guilty plea to murder, Bass Webb was sentenced Wednesday to 50 years in prison for the 2009 death of his estranged girlfriend, Bryia Runiewicz.

The sentence will be in addition to a 15-year sentence Webb received in Fayette County for assaulting a detention officer there. Webb, 32, will not be eligible for parole until he has served 20 years.

Runiewicz, 31, was found dead in her Harrison County home on July 31, 2009.

Webb pleaded guilty to murder and being a persistent felony offender on July 17, but he asked to withdraw that plea on Aug. 14.

A hearing on the motion to withdraw the plea was scheduled for Wednesday. The hearing was to be heard in Pendleton County because the case had been moved there after a jury could not be seated in Harrison County in 2011 because of pretrial publicity.

Webb has been in the news for years. He has been charged in the death of two former girlfriends, and he was convicted on two counts of attempted murder for trying to run down a pretrial officer and a deputy sheriff while driving a Geo Tracker outside the Bourbon County jail in 2009. And he gained notoriety after videos of him spitting on a judge were broadcast on the Internet and television. Webb was charged with contempt after the spitting incident.

Webb also is accused of murder in the death of Sabrina Marie Vaughn in Montgomery County. Vaughn's skeletal remains were found in January 2010, seven years after she had gone missing. That trial is scheduled for April 2013.

To the relief of Runiewicz's relatives, Webb changed his mind again and withdrew the motion to withdraw the guilty plea.

On Wednesday, four relatives — Dora Clair, Bryia's mother; Dorothy Wilson, Bryia's sister; Scott Darr, Bryia's brother; and Leonard Mitchell, Bryia's stepfather — gave victim impact statements during the hearing.

Clair said she is still trying to explain to Bryia's two daughters, now 11 and 12, "why they don't have a mother. ... They still have nightmares."

"Thank you for giving us some peace," Wilson told Harrison Circuit Judge Jay Delaney.

Had Webb gone to trial and been convicted by a jury, he could have faced the death penalty. Clair said she agreed to a 50-year sentence to avoid a trial and thus prevent Bryia's two daughters from testifying. The two girls were in the house when their mother died.

Nevertheless, the plea agreement is bittersweet, Wilson said, because it is still unclear to the family why Webb killed Runiewicz.

"It sits there kind of eating at you sometimes, wondering why," Wilson said after the sentencing. "But if you sit around thinking about the why, it'll drive you nuts."

In a parting shot as he was escorted away, Webb turned his head and grinned broadly at Runiewicz's relatives. Clair said she saw the smile.

"I would like to smack it off his face, but I have self-control," Clair said. "I know sooner or later, his smirk, he's going to eat it. You can't keep hurting people. You're going to pay. God's going to make sure of that."

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305.Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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