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INDEPENDENCE — Charges have been placed in the 11-year-old unsolved murder case of Brandon Billings, a Galax High School student and football player found shot to death in his truck in 2002.
According to Grayson Commonwealth’s Attorney Doug Vaught, a special grand jury convened by the Grayson County Circuit Court returned indictments charging that Chad Allen Reeves, 33, and George Albert Harper III, 40, did “with malice aforethought, kill and murder” Kyle Brandon Billings at some time between Oct. 5 and 6, 2002.
Both individuals are also charged separately with using a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Both Reeves and Harper are currently incarcerated on unrelated convictions. They are from the Galax area.
Billings’ body was found the afternoon of Oct. 6, 2002, by passers-by near New River and the cul-de-sac of Rock House Lane, in Grayson County.
He was in his pickup, which had wrecked by the river. He had a gunshot wound to the head.
Billings was killed one day after his 18th birthday.
Grayson Sheriff Richard Vaughan and his predecessor, Sheriff Jerry Wilson, ran down dozens of leads in the past 11 years, most of them leading to dead ends.
“His killing sparked a years-long search for anyone responsible for the killing or for information concerning his murder,” said Vaught in a news release late Friday afternoon.
During that time, the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office coordinated the investigation, and was assisted by Virginia State Police, other Virginia sheriffs’ departments and law enforcement agencies from several other states.
“Over the years, those departments conducted voluminous interviews, and searched for evidence and witnesses related to the crime. With the development of new leads and information recently coming to light, a special investigative grand jury was requested by the Commonwealth’s Attorney and impaneled by the judge of the Grayson County Circuit Court on March 24, 2011,” Vaught said.
The information from the prosecutor did not reveal any possible motive for the killing, nor did it provide any details about why Reeves and Harper were charged or what evidence led to the convening of the special grand jury in 2011. All proceedings by the special grand jury are sealed and are only available for inspection in limited instances by court order.
The direct indictments against Reeves and Harper were returned on Jan. 3, “after almost three years of meetings, testimony, investigation and deliberation by the grand jury,” Vaught said. “The indictments remained sealed until steps could be taken to secure the detention of the named defendants.”
On Jan. 10, Vaught and Grayson Sheriff Richard Vaughan forwarded certified copies of the indictments, along with a request that the indictments be filed as detainers against Reeves and Harper by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Because Reeves is in federal custody outside Virginia, the Virginia charges will not be tried until the completion of his federal sentence, or unless other special arrangements are made, Vaught said. Reeves would then be returned to Virginia to stand trial on the murder and use of a firearm indictments.
Harper is in custody of the Virginia Department of Corrections, “but it is uncertain as to when he will be served and when he would be transferred to the New River Valley Regional Jail in preparation for trial,” Vaught said.
An Enduring Mystery
Billings was found shot to death around 2:35 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2002.
The 6-foot-2, 330-pound teen was an offensive lineman on the GHS Maroon Tide football team, but known as a “gentle giant” by teammates.
Former Grayson Sheriff Jerry Wilson said a hunter who was sighting his rifle discovered the body that Sunday afternoon. Billings was in a gray Ford Ranger pickup truck registered to his parents.
The truck was in a small creek feeding the New River on Rock House Road, off Patton Mill Road near the New River, a well-known river access and favorite party location of local teens.
Police did not recover the gun.
Billings died from multiple gunshots. His wallet was missing but police did not assume robbery was a motive.
The body was bruised, but Wilson said at the time that he didn’t believe Billings was beaten. “He just had a big ball game on [the previous] Friday night. The vehicle had wrecked.”
Wilson said police didn’t know whether the vehicle wrecked before or after Billings was shot.
Billings was in the driver’s seat. Wilson said the truck had no bullet damage.
“He was last seen by his family in the afternoon hours” of Oct. 5, 2002, Wilson told The Gazette in 2002. “He had been with several friends” that evening.
Friends last saw him at a convenience store in Galax between 2 and 4 a.m. on Oct. 6. He was alone.
Wilson said police had no evidence that Billings was abducted or forced to drive to Rock House Road.
Court records show that Reeves has convictions in Carroll County Circuit Court for possession of schedule II drug in 2006 and in Grayson County Circuit Court for assault and battery in 2006.
Harper has convictions in Carroll County for two distribution of an imitation controlled substance (two counts) in 2012; petit larceny; failure to appear (felony); grand larceny; and distributing drugs.
In Grayson County, Harper has previous convictions of assault and battery in 2009; obstruction of justice in 2009; possession of schedule I or II drug; possession of marijuana (first offense); and several probation violations.
What Comes Next
Vaught said every unlawful, malicious homicide in Virginia is presumed to be murder in the second degree, “and the Commonwealth has the burden of elevating it to first-degree by proof of premeditation or other statutory enhancing factors.”
The general indictment for “with malice aforethought, kill and murder” allows the Commonwealth to introduce evidence it believes would support a first-degree murder conviction.
“The defendant may present evidence that may be offered to establish innocence, or negate the premeditation, or the presence of malice in the homicide thereby making it a crime of second-degree murder or manslaughter,” Vaught explained.
Friday’s late afternoon news release is likely the only official statement that will be made for a while, Vaught said. “In the interest of preserving a neutral jury pool for trial of these cases, no additional comments or evidence will be released prior to the trial of the cases.”
No trial date has been set, nor did Vaught know when a date might be set.
Billings’ parents, Kyle and Sherry Billings, are expected to attend a press conference on Monday, set for 2 p.m. at the Grayson County Courthouse in Independence, “to meet the press and make whatever comment they feel appropriate,” Vaught said.
He said the family plans no other interactions with the media.
• Pick up The Gazette’s Wednesday edition, or check www.galaxgazette.com on Monday afternoon, for more information following the press conference.