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HILLSVILLE — The fact that David Levelle Richardson fired three shots in a May 18, 2010, incident that resulted in the death of a Carroll County man seemed to sway the jury to send the accused to prison for nine years.
On that day in the Coal Creek community, shortly after Richardson arrived at a party, horseplay quickly turned violent and led to the death of Bryon Jordan Wilson.
Richardson, 22, wearing a button-down white shirt and black tie, appeared in Carroll County Circuit Court for a jury trial beginning on Monday to face charges of first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and discharging a firearm in an occupied dwelling.
He remained stoic throughout testimony as Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan Lyons called 12 witnesses and forensic experts to discuss the facts of the case. Defense attorney Jonathan Venzie argued Richardson’s actions constituted self-defense because Wilson attacked him with a wrench.
Witness Jessica Hawks testified that she, Chris Blevins, Jason Gravley and Richardson rode in a car together to Gravley’s home to drink and party.
During the ride over, people were singing along with the radio and Richardson fired a gun out of the window, she told the court.
Wilson and his girlfriend were already at the home, where they had been staying for two weeks. She said that Richardson and Blevins were playing around right after they walked in the home.
“It wasn’t anything serious,” she said. “It was just joking, playing.”
Wilson then got involved. He head-butted Richardson in the chest and the fight escalated.
She described Richardson as looking taken aback by Wilson’s actions. Richardson pushed back and Wilson stumbled against the couch.
After an exchange of hits, Richardson asked if Wilson wanted to take it outside.
Richardson went toward the front door, near where the bathroom was.
Hawks said she saw Wilson grab a large object out of the kitchen as he went that way, too.
She didn’t know it was a wrench at the time — she just saw it out of the corner of her eye.
Richardson went into the bathroom instead of going outside and Wilson followed.
Hawks heard “a big thud and pow, pow, pow.”
Wilson came out of the bathroom and said, “Chevy, he shot me,” before falling to the floor and trying to crawl, Hawks recalled. Richardson came out of the bathroom and walked out of the home.
Witness Heather Miller was already at the home with Wilson when the other partygoers arrived.
She testified that Richardson and Blevins started playing around and that Wilson went towards them, but she didn’t start paying attention until Wilson fell over her on the couch when he was pushed.
Miller testified that Wilson had stuck Richardson’s hand out at one point and said, “Let’s squash this,” to Richardson. She said that Richardson responded by hitting Wilson.
Venzie questioned her on that, saying that the words about "squashing" the argument were not in her report to the police and she did not mention it at the earlier preliminary hearing.
“I was just answering the questions y’all asked,” Miller responded.
The exchange prompted Lyons to point to a preliminary hearing transcript and note that Miller said at that time that Wilson wanted to “stop this.”
Miller said that Wilson had been drinking. She answered that Wilson had grabbed the 1.25-inch wrench off the wall as he followed Richardson.
Chris Blevins testified that he thought that Wilson was hitting Richardson with the wrench in the head several times and Richardson tried to block the blows.
He estimated that it only took around five minutes from their arrival that Wilson was shot.
“The evening hadn’t really gotten started,” Blevins said.
Blevins described holding a beer when he was play fighting with Richardson, and then Wilson head-butted Richardson. He went to put drinks in the refrigerator as the fighting escalated.
“When I turned around David was getting struck with the wrench,” Blevins said. At first he though that Wilson used a towel rack.
“He [Wilson] swung the wrench — I thought he was hitting him in the head.”
Richardson crouched, trying to protect himself from getting hit, Blevins said.
If Blevins’ friend was getting hit repeatedly, then why didn’t he stop it? Venzie asked.
Blevins answered that he didn’t want to get in the middle and get hit.
Richard Van Roberts, a Virginia Division of Forensics expert in firearms and tool marks, matched the shell casings found at the scene to Richardson’s .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
The expert also examined evidence to figure out how far the two men were apart during the incident. From his 17 years of experience, Roberts knew this gun would deposit gunpowder on objects up to around five feet, but stops after six feet.
Testing Wilson’s shirt, he found no gunpowder, leading the expert to believe the gun was fired from more than five to six feet away. Either that or there was something in between that would have kept the gunpowder from getting on Wilson’s shirt.
Roberts also explained the importance of the trigger action of Richardson’s gun.
He found that it takes 9.75 pounds of pressure to fire that weapon.
“That’s heavy — a good trigger pull is between five and six-and-a-half pounds,” the expert said.
The gun was found outside the Coal Creek residence under a bush, according to testimony from Carroll County deputies.
Investigator Kevin Kemp saw Richardson taken into custody. Richardson hid in a closet, under clothes, in a home across the road from where the incident happened.
After the state trooper yelled at Richardson to show his hands, the accused showed no indication that he heard or was awake, Kemp testified.
When rescue squad members arrived to treat Richardson for his head wound, Kemp said the man was “very combative” with them.
Dr. Christina Roberts, the former assistant chief medical examiner at the state forensics lab in Roanoke, shared the results of her autopsy on Wilson.
The bullet that struck Wilson in the chest hit the right atrium of his heart, passed through the lung and exited out his back a little less than five inches lower than it went in, she said. Roberts found no soot or gunpowder burns on Wilson’s skin.
The autopsy found that Wilson’s blood alcohol content was .11 percent.
For the defense’s case, Venzie showed the jury a film of a scan of Richardson’s head from his medical treatment after getting hit with a wrench. It showed trauma, but no brain bleeds or bone fractures.
EMT Everett Lineberry testified that he got no response from Richardson when treatment started and found a three-centimeter laceration on the left side of his head.
Richardson did come around in the ambulance, but became combative, so he was sedated so he wouldn’t hurt himself or the EMTs, Lineberry recalled. He further described Richardson as agitated and belligerent and that physical restraint was needed.
EMTs did not have time to do an in-depth assessment of Richardson, and they treated no wounds other than the one on his head.
Defense witness Jason Gravley testified that at first everybody was just interested in having a good time that night.
“We were just all in a good mood, just excited, happy, having a good time,” he said.
Gravley saw Blevins and Richardson playing around at his house and saw Wilson head-butt Richardson. Wilson got knocked over the couch and then got in Richardson’s face.
After Richardson asked Wilson to go outside, Gravley testified that Wilson grabbed the wrench off the wall and hit Richardson.
“I thought he was getting hit in the head the whole time,” Gravley said.
Why was the wrench there, he was asked.
Gravley explained he had a lot of parties. “I had it on my wall for a weapon, really, because I had the intention of using it on someone else,” he told the court.
Richardson tried to get away with his hands over his head, going toward the bathroom while getting hit, the witness testified.
“They keep going into the bathroom,” Gravley recalled. “I just heard something like a thump.”
Gravley wasn’t sure what the sound was — it might have been somebody running into something. Then there were three pops.
Wilson came out of the bathroom, saying he was shot, and “his wifebeater [T-shirt], like, fills up with blood instantly.”
Why didn’t Gravley stop the beating? Venzie asked.
“He was like swinging that wrench hard,” the witness said. “I wasn’t trying to get hit with that wrench.”
Lyons wondered if Gravley remembered the statement he made to police right after the incident. “That doesn’t match anything that you told us today.”
For example, the statement doesn’t indicate that Richardson got hit multiple times.
“I didn’t specify how many times, I just said Bryon grabbed the wrench off the wall and started swinging,” Gravley answered.
Gravley believes that he was in shock from seeing his friend die.
“Would you be surprised to know that he [Richardson] only had one injury?” Lyons asked.
Gravley responded that he only learned that later.
Lyons, in closing arguments, asked the jury to convict Richardson of murder.
“He arrives and in less than five minutes, Bryon Wilson is dead,” the prosecutor said.
Wilson even put out his hand and tried to stop fight, but got punched in the face and made an offer to go outside to settle things, Lyons said.
It wasn’t self-defense on Richardson’s part because he deliberately pulled the trigger three times, the prosecutor argued. As the expert said, that gun had a heavy trigger pull.
“You had to mean it each time [he pulled the trigger] and he meant it and he took the life of Bryon Jordan Wilson...” Lyons said. “He [Richardson] got to play judge, jury and executioner.”
Also, testing showed that the men were five feet apart, so there was no imminent danger to Richardson from the wrench.
Venzie argued that Richardson had an “absolute right of self defense,” and showed restraint after he was hit by Wilson.
Richardson had to receive 12 staples as a result.
“He [Richardson] retreated though two rooms in a good faith attempt to abandon the fight,” the defense attorney said.
Venzie picked up a wrench that matched the one used that night an smacked it against his hand. Can you imagine getting hit with that upside your head? he asked the jury.
“For whatever reason, David Richardson exercised incredible restraint,” the defense attorney said. “He didn’t go lethal until lethal was used on him.”
Lyons didn’t believe that Richardson acted in self-defense.
“He wasn’t defending himself, he wasn’t in fear. He was angry,” the prosecutor argued. “He and he alone made three conscious decisions to pull the trigger.”
The eight woman, four man jury deliberated for two hours on Tuesday before finding Richardson guilty of involuntary manslaughter, use of a firearm and of discharging a firearm in an occupied dwelling.
In the sentencing phase, the jury learned that Richardson had nine previous felony convictions, including obstruction of justice, unlawful wounding, assault and distribution of a schedule II substance, mostly from 2008.
Taking the stand for the first time, Richardson testified that he never had “any anger or hate” for Wilson, but considered him a friend.
He doesn’t remember what happened on that night after he got hit.
When the jury made its sentencing recommendation, they found that Richardson should spend nine years in prison — four years for manslaughter, two for discharging the firearm and three for using the firearm to commit a felony.
The court scheduled a sentencing hearing for June 18.
Tina Maria Snow, Wilson’s mother, told the jury that people are just on loan on Earth, but no one has the right to take anybody’s life before their time.
The family has to show pictures of Wilson to his son, so the boy will have memories of his father, she said.