Peters­burg quadru­ple mur­der case goes to jury

Clos­ing ar­gu­ments held in trial of man ac­cused of killing 4

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - METRO RTD - BY MARK BOWES mbowes@times­dis­ (804) 649-6450

De­fense at­tor­ney as­serts that po­lice de­tec­tive planted key piece of ev­i­dence.

PETERS­BURG— The pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense on Thurs­day bat­tled for the hearts and minds of ju­rors in the cap­i­tal mur­der trial of Alexan­der R. Hill Jr. when Hill’s lead at­tor­ney as­serted in clos­ing ar­gu­ments that a key Peters­burg po­lice de­tec­tive planted a cru­cial piece of ev­i­dence — the de­fen­dant’s cell­phone — and had tainted the en­tire case.

On the sev­enth day of Hill’s trial in Peters­burg Cir­cuit Court, a jury of 10 women and two men be­gan de­lib­er­at­ing at 1:35 p.m. af­ter nearly 2½ hours of clos­ing ar­gu­ments by the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense. Af­ter fail­ing to reach a ver­dict by 5 p.m., Judge Joseph M. Teefey Jr. sent the panel home for the evening and in­structed them to re­turn at 8:30 a.m. Fri­day.

Ju­rors are con­sid­er­ing an as­sort­ment of charges against Hill, in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple counts of cap­i­tal mur­der and first-de­gree mur­der in the April 19, 2014, slay­ings of Pauline Wilkins, 67; Vicki Cha- vis-An­sar, 46; Tanique Chavis, 22; and her son, Del­vari Chavis, 2. Wilkins and Chavis-An­sar were stabbed to death. Pros­e­cu­tors say Tanique and Del­vari Chavis died of fire-re­lated in­juries af­ter Hill broke in and set their home ablaze.

Ju­rors also will de­cide whether to con­vict Hill of ar­son in con­nec­tion with the fire, as well as mak­ing threat­en­ing phone calls to Vi­vian Chavis and vi­o­lat­ing a pro­tec­tive or­der she ob­tained against Hill. Vi­vian Chavis is Hill’s for­mer girl­friend whose ru­inous re­la­tion­ship with the de­fen­dant was the cat­a­lyst for the vi­o­lence that re­sulted in one of Peters­burg’s worst mass killings, pros­e­cu­tors say.

In explosive re­marks be­fore the jury, cap­i­tal de­fender Doug Ram­seur charged that Peters­burg po­lice al­most im­me­di­ately declared Hill their chief and only sus­pect in the 2014 Easter week­end killings, and acted to “find ev­i­dence that matched” and “ig­nore all ev­i­dence to the con­trary.”

Ram­seur fo­cused his at­ten­tion on Peters­burg De­tec­tive Roo­sevelt Harris, who was the “pri­mary crime-scene ev­i­dence col­lec­tor” at the vic­tims’ home. The at­tor­ney sug­gested that Harris planted Hill’s cell­phone — which Ram­seur de­scribed as the “sin­gle most in­crim­i­nat­ing piece of ev­i­dence” against his client — in the back­yard.

Harris tes­ti­fied ear­lier that he found a gray Sam­sung cell­phone lay­ing in the grass and that when he ac­ti­vated it later, the words “Real Deal” — Hill’s street name— popped up on the screen. Author­i­ties later re­cov­ered an in­crim­i­nat­ing text mes­sage that Hill sent via his phone to a friend just be­fore the killings — at 3:28 a.m. on April 19, 2014— that pros­e­cu­tors say places Hill at the mur­der scene.

Ram­seur told ju­rors that Harris could not pro­vide a pho­to­graph of the cell­phone with an ev­i­dence marker af­ter it was found in the yard— which is stan­dard po­lice prac­tice when dis­cov­er­ing po­ten­tial ev­i­dence— be­cause “that phone was never there.”

Harris had tes­ti­fied that he picked up the phone be­cause it be­gan to rain, and then im­me­di­ately placed it in an ev­i­dence bag and into his car for safe­keep­ing.

But Ram­seur even chal­lenged Harris’ claim that it was rain­ing at the time, show­ing ju­rors a blownup photo of a weather re­port that noted there was no rain­fall in Peters­burg that day un­til 8 a.m. — about four hours af­ter Harris ar­rived and said he found the phone. Ram­seur also dis­played for ju­rors blown-up pho­tos of other items marked as ev­i­dence that were found in the yard, and none ap­peared to be wet from rain.

“If you can’t trust Roo­sevelt about the weather,” Ram­seur told ju­rors, you can’t trust any­thing he says or does re­gard­ing the mur­der case.

“This case rises and falls on Roo­sevelt Harris,” the at­tor­ney declared.

Ear­lier in the trial, Ram­seur sought to im­peach Harris as a wit­ness by dis­clos­ing that the de­tec­tive had been rep­ri­manded or sus­pended three times be­tween 2004 and 2017 for im­prop­erly han­dling or losing ev­i­dence, and was re­moved as su­per­vi­sor of the department’s prop­erty room af­ter an in­ter­nal au­dit in 2015 re­vealed that more than $10,000 in cash from three crim­i­nal cases had gone miss­ing.

But the judge dis­al­lowed the dis­clo­sure to ju­rors, say­ing there was no con­nec­tion be­tween Harris’ ear­lier mis­takes and his han­dling of ev­i­dence in the 2014 killings.

In a re­but­tal of Ram­seur’s nar­ra­tive, Peters­burg Com­mon­wealth’s At­tor­ney Ch­eryl Wil­son told ju­rors that Ram­seur was en­gag­ing in spec­u­la­tion and “there has been no ev­i­dence” that Harris planted the phone or that Peters­burg po­lice had cor­rupted or mis­han­dled the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“It’s easy enough to place blame ev­ery­where when there is noth­ing to sup­port it,” Wil­son told ju­rors. “They are throw­ing out all these other (allegations) to con­fuse the is­sue.”

“The only ev­i­dence you have is that the de­fen­dant’s phone was at the (vic­tim’s) house,” Wil­son added. “Any­thing they can po­ten­tially point to they put on De­tec­tive Harris — even though he didn’t have any­thing to do with it.”

Wil­son said Peters­burg po­lice had “every rea­son” to look closely at Hill be­cause they learned in the ear­li­est stages of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that Hill had been re­lent­lessly call­ing his for­mer girl­friend — Vi­vian Chavis — and threat­en­ing to kill her and her fam­ily. She noted that Hill called Chavis 99 times be­tween April 4 and April 8, 2014.

“All of (the ev­i­dence) points to one per­son,” Wil­son told the jury, “and that’s why po­lice were look­ing at him.”

In her clos­ing ar­gu­ment, Wil­son also em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of Hill’s cell­phone to the case.

“We know where the cell­phone was, and we know who sent the text, and we know where he was when he sent it,” the pros­e­cu­tor said.

Wil­son was re­fer­ring to a bizarre text mes­sage, that author­i­ties were able to re­cover, that Hill sent to his friend, Justin Kep­pler, at 3:28 a.m. on April 19, 2014— just three min­utes be­fore Tanique Chavis called 911 to re­port that a man had bro­ken into her fam­ily’s home in the 700 block of Hard­ing Street.

The text, which Wil­son re­ferred to as Hill’s last will and tes­ta­ment, read: “Hey brother. I amhere! My des­ti­na­tion. Should things go as I have planned I no longer ex­ist. That’s right claim my re­mains and en­sure they are cre­mated.”

But Hill didn’t die that night, Wil­son noted, and in­stead fled to North Carolina just af­ter mid­night on Easter Sun­day, April 20.

“He had a plan in place,” the pros­e­cu­tor said. “He knew (the killings) would come back to him. That’s why he left.”


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