Owens pleads guilty to murder

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By Shaina Stockton

HILLSVILLE — In the midst of grand jury indictments on Monday, 31-year-old Jesse James Owens of Woodlawn surprised the court with a guilty plea to four charges, including first-degree murder.

The case preceding Owens’ plea began Feb. 8, 2013, when he admittedly used a firearm to shoot and kill his girlfriend, Delphie Willey.

Owens was accused of shooting Willey in the head, according to police reports. Previous testimonies had indicated that he’d committed the act after becoming jealous of Willey dancing with another man.

In addition to the murder charge, Owens three other charges included use of a firearm in conspiracy of a felony, possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.

Owens had a jury trial scheduled for June 23-25, but Carroll Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan Lyons explained that Owens decided to enter a plea at the last minute. “It was a surprise,” Lyons told The Gazette.

Judge Brett Geisler informed Owens that his plea could hold a maximum punishment of life in prison, and a $175,000 fine.

Lyons summarized the evidence that had been collected against Owens, which included evidence that showed blood samples taken at the scene and from Owens’ truck matched Willey’s DNA.

Nathan Dowell, a friend who was at the scene at the time of Willey’s death, gave a testimony of what happened during a preliminary hearing in September, 2013. According to his statement to the court, Dowell, Owens and Willey had been hanging out and drinking all day at Owens’ home at 90 Boot Jack Drive.

Activities preceding the evening’s grisly events had included shooting a .22-caliber Marlin rifle outside the home. After going back inside to eat and drink some more,

Owens got a call on his cell phone from his son, and went back outside.

When Owens returned he overheard Dowell and Willey talking about Valentine’s Day.

Dowell said Owens told Willey that he loved her and that she was “his snowflake,” put a necklace around her neck and then used a rifle to shoot her in the head.

According to autopsy reports, the bullet entered behind the ear, and traveled straight through with no exit wound.

Dowell testified that he had been asked to help move the body, and that he’d gone as far as to put socks on his hands, but in the end he didn’t go through with it. Instead, he left the home on foot, and was picked up and driven to his home where he called the Carroll County Sheriff’s office.

According to Investigator Seth Greer, Owens first denied the charges, and characterized the shooting as an accident, claiming that dancing at the party caused the rifle to fall over and go off.

However, after it was explained that the trajectory of the .22 made that story impossible, he changed his statement.

Owens said that he found Dowell and Willey “dancing and rubbing on each other” after coming back from a beer run.

“I pulled out a f---ing gun and shot her,” Owens said during his statement on Feb. 13, 2013.

Owens also told the investigator that Dowell helped him put the body in the back of his Silverado truck. He drove her 20 minutes away to a different part of the county.

Police found the body on Feb. 9, just off the side of Holly Ridge Road in Cana. “She was found about four to five feet from the surface of the road,” Lyons told The Gazette.

Lyons shared a statement from Owens claiming that he had taken her to a church, “because he wanted her to be at peace.” But when police mentioned where they found Willey’s body, he retracted the statement, admitting that it was false.

After disposing of the body, Owens disappeared into the woods, and a manhunt ensued.

According to the evidence, investigators found pools of blood in the driveway and inside Owens’ residence, and drag marks and more blood that led from inside the house to the driveway. They also found shell casings inside the home, and a mop that appeared to have been used to clean up the blood.

Inside Owens’ truck, they found items that had traces of Willey’s DNA, including a CD and a pair of gloves. There was blood found in the truck bed and on the steering wheel that was a perfect match with Willey’s DNA.

Fragments found during the autopsy indicated a possible match between the type of bullets and the suspected murder weapon.

Telephone logs and texts were also collected as evidence that led up to the Feb. 8 events.

After hearing his rights, Owens freely and willfully pleaded guilty to all four charges, including the murder charge.

Upon hearing his plea, the court sentenced Owens to serve 100 years in the Virginia Department of Corrections — 58 of which were suspended. After serving 42 years, Owens will be placed on supervised probation for the next 50 years.

In addition to his sentence, he was ordered to pay a total of $1,336.75 to cover the costs of Willey’s funeral, according to Lyons.

“[Owens] won’t start serving his time here until September,” Lyons explained, noting that Owens has been serving an 18-month sentence out of Buchanan County for possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.

Although Owens was abusing alcohol and methamphetamine at the scene, Lyons said that the charge stood at first-degree murder because of actions that had taken place before and after the incident happened — the loading of the gun and the disposal of the body.

“There was obviously some planning and some premeditation here,” Lyons said.