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HILLSVILLE — People gathered at a Pipers Gap home on May 18 saw horseplay between David Levelle Richardson of Galax and Bryon Jordan Wilson escalate into something more violent.
No witness saw the shooting that killed Wilson, because it happened in the bathroom of the home on Coal Creek Road. But a witnesses testifying at the preliminary hearing in Carroll County General District Court Friday agreed that, after a fight, Wilson picked up an object and followed Richardson into the bathroom.
Everybody heard the gunshots and saw Wilson walk out of the bathroom and heard him say that Richardson had shot him.
Richardson then walked back into the room and paused before going out the front door of the home, witnesses testified.
Carroll deputies later found Richardson in a house across the street with a wound to the head that required 12 staples to heal. He was reportedly struck with a wrench.
Deputies charged Richardson with first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, discharge of a firearm in an occupied dwelling and breaking and entering.
Richardson appeared in Carroll County General District Court last Friday for a preliminary hearing before substitute Judge Eugene Lohman.
Testimony from Jessica Hawks established that Richardson had a firearm on his person that evening.
She recalled Richardson sitting behind her in the vehicle on the drive over to the residence when he first used the gun that evening. "He shot a gun out of my car window," she testified.
Hawks didn't know why that happened, but the gun was near her head when it went off. She later testified she didn't see the gun for the rest of the night.
Soon after their arrival at the home, Hawks said the play fighting started between Richardson and another man before Wilson got involved.
Hawks thought that Wilson got up and head-butted Richardson in the chest.
"It started to get heated and David said, 'Let's take this outside,'" she remembered.
Richardson started walking towards the general area of the front door, and the bathroom is near that, Hawks recalled.
She believed Wilson got the wrench from the kitchen table. Hawks held her hands about 14 inches apart to show how big the wretch was.
The incident happened fast — first there was a really loud bang from the bathroom followed by gunshots, Hawks testified about what she heard. Wilson came out of the bathroom, saying he'd been shot, and fell down on the floor.
Richardson came out then, stood briefly and went out of the house, she said.
Witness Heather Miller described a moment when Richardson and Wilson were wrestling that Wilson fell over the couch and over her.
Wilson asked Richardson what he did that for, and then they started to really fight, Miller said. Wilson went so far to slip his shoes on after they talked about going outside, but the two men never left the house.
Richardson went towards the bathroom, and Miller saw Wilson following him while carrying a long silver object, as defense attorney Jonathon Venzie noted Miller's description in the police report. She didn't see him pick up the wrench.
"I didn't even know David had been hit in the head until police told me," she said.
People heard three gunshots and Wilson came out of the bathroom with a wound to the chest. Miller said they heard no arguing coming from the bathroom.
Venzie asked Miller how much Wilson had to drink that night. She answered he was acting a little intoxicated.
Richardson had fled to Evon Holloway's home across the street. Holloway testified that she grew up with Richardson and he was welcome at her house.
She had returned home from watching “American Idol” with her sister, unpacked her car and brought her daughters in, she said. Holloway had put her daughters to bed by the time the authorities came in to search her home.
Richardson had entered through an unlocked door and went into a back room, unbeknownst to Holloway. Richardson had been to a cookout at her house just before the incident, and at other times, too.
"I guess he felt it was a safe place for him to come," Holloway said.
"Was he free to come and go in your house as he pleased," Venzie asked.
"Any time," she answered.
Fred Bobbitt, investigator for the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, testified that he followed the trail of blood droplets from Wilson's body in the middle of the floor in the open space of the kitchen back to the bathroom.
The investigator found two shell casings in the bathtub belonging to a 45-caliber gun. Bobbitt said he also found another shell casing under the sink there.
In the kitchen, Bobbitt found and secured the large wrench lying next to the victim.
Authorities recovered a 45-caliber gun the next day outside the home. Bobbitt said it was under a bush about 30 yards away from the residence.
Venzie thought it was curious that deputies recovered the shell casings but did not find the projectiles — either in the victim's body or through the wall or door through which the bullets had left holes.
"I'm trying to find the bullets," Venzie said after questioning Bobbitt about the casings and the holes the projectiles left.
"The one in the victim you know didn't have the bullet in it," the defense attorney said. "That the kind of thing that keeps you up at night?"
"Absolutely," Bobbitt answered.
Venzie also questioned Bobbitt about a larger hole in the drywall, wondering if it could have been evidence of somebody hitting their head against the wall.
Before Venzie and prosecutor Greg Goad could begin their arguments, Judge Lohman explained he was inclined to throw out the breaking and entering charge for insufficient evidence, based on Holloway's testimony.
Venzie didn't try to contest the possession of a firearm charge by a felon, but he tackled the first-degree murder charge.
"All we have is a young man who's been killed by a gun shot wound," Venzie said. "Everything we have is showing Bryon Wilson being the aggressor."
To prove first-degree murder, the prosecution has to show willful pre-meditation, Venzie said. But the prosecutor has only shown a "little slap-fight," from which Richardson walked away and went into the bathroom.
Wilson went in pursuit of Richardson, the defense attorney said. Richardson was defending himself.
Goad answered that three shots were fired by Richardson, not just one.
The autopsy also showed that the gun was fired from some distance from Wilson, Goad said in supporting the idea there was pre-meditation involved.
Lohman sided with the prosecutor, certifying all charges against Richardson — except for breaking and entering — to the grand jury.