U.S. Marshal: Hill captured just minutes after tip
Arrest of Petersburg man on murder charges followed TV appearance
PETERSBURG — A moment in the limelight proved costly for Alexander Hill, according to testimony Wednesday in his trial on multiple charges of murder.
Hill, who is accused of murdering four members of his former girlfriend’s family on Easter Sunday, April 19, 2014, appeared in a story on TV station WGRZ in Buffalo, N.Y., in March 2015 about a local church that gave homeless people shelter in exchange for working on a building they were renovating.
The video, which was shown in court Wednesday, shows Hill wearing a hat and glasses and sporting a mustache and goatee. Hill expressed his gratitude for the church program, while a caption identifying him as “Trent Dales, Carpenter” was displayed on the screen.
Despite the disguise and the alias, someone who saw the segment recognized Hill and on April 23, 2015, contacted the U.S. Marshals Service’s Buffalo office, where the tip was relayed to Marshal Scott Baryza, who heads up the Violent Felony Fugitive Task Force there. The Marshals Service had recently recirculated a poster bearing Hill’s photo and description.
Baryza testified in Petersburg Circuit Court on Wednesday that he immediately confirmed that “there was an active case for Mr. Hill.” Within 20 to 30 minutes, he said, a SWAT team surrounded St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, a homeless shelter where Hill had been staying for about three months.
“Immediately upon entry, I encountered Mr. Hill standing there,” Baryza said. He said he recognized Hill by his “bright hazel eyes and the bump on his forehead,” and after handcuffing him, confirmed that there was a scar on the suspect’s chest.
Baryza said Hill was taken to the city’s central booking facility for processing. Hill “said if they removed his handcuffs to take fingerprints, he would fight them,” Baryza testified. When they did try to fingerprint him, he did resist, and they were unable to obtain the prints, Baryza said.
Hill was subsequently transferred to federal custody and was successfully fingerprinted, but only after Baryza “had to forcibly pry each finger out of the fists he was making.” He was transported back to Petersburg on May 5, 2015 and arraigned on May 8, 2015, on an initial charge of violating a protective order.
According to testimony on Tuesday, Hill had left Petersburg by taxi late in the evening of April 19, 2014, about 20 hours after four people were found dead in a home at 721 Harding Street that had been set afire. The victims were all related to Hill’s former girlfriend, Vivian Chavis: Her mother, Pauline Wilkins, 67, and sister, Vicki Chavis-Ansar, 46, died of multiple stab wounds, and her niece, Tanique Chavis, 22, and Tanique’s 2-yearold son, Delvari, died from fire-related injuries.
On Tuesday, Orrin Pickering, a taxi driver for Boulevard Cab at the time of the slayings, described picking up Hill around 10 p.m. on April 19 and driving him to Weldon, N.C., near Roanoke Rapids, where he dropped him off at a Waffle House restaurant. Pickering had commented on an “awful smell” emanating from Hill, so strong that Pickering said he had to stop at a rest area on Interstate 95 to let his vehicle air out before returning to Petersburg.
On Wednesday, Kathy Wallace, a waitress at the Weldon Waffle House, described her encounter with Hill that night. She said he asked her if there was a bus or train station nearby. Wallace said she told him there was a bus station in Emporia, about 20 miles away, but Hill “said he wasn’t going back to Virginia.” She then told him there was a bus station in Rocky Mount, N.C., but it wouldn’t open for several more hours.
Wallace said Hill wanted to find a ride to Rocky Mount, so she called a friend, Thomas Walton, who worked at a hotel near the Waffle
House, and Walton agreed to drive Hill to the bus station for $50.
Wallace, who said she knew nothing about the murders at the time, later identified Hill from photos shown to her by Petersburg detectives. Asked Wednesday by Commonwealth’s Attorney Cheryl Wilson what she had noticed about him, Wallace recalled “his eyes – he had the most unusual hazel eyes I’ve ever seen. They were really intense.”
Walton testified that Hill told him he was trying to get to Mississippi. He and Wallace both commented on Hill’s odor – Wallace said he “smelled like kerosene” and Walton recalled that he “smelled like he had kerosene or gasoline on him. He was real stinky.”
Much of Wednesday’s hearing was taken up with highly technical testimony regarding DNA testing of items of evidence investigators had gathered from the Harding Street home and an abandoned house on Ferndale Avenue next door to a home where Hill had previously lived. The results were mostly negative or inconclusive, but experts from the Virginia Division of Forensic Science said Hill couldn’t be eliminated as the source of bloodstains on a white T-shirt found at the Ferndale Avenue house.
The prosecution rested its case late Wednesday afternoon. Judge Joseph M. Teefey Jr., after a discussion with attorneys for both sides, said he plans to hear closing arguments Thursday afternoon, after which the case will go to the jury.