Harding Street murder case goes to jury
Deliberations in Hill trial set to resume Friday morning
PETERSBURG – The fate of Alexander Hill Jr. was placed in the hands of 10 women and two men on Thursday after nearly a week of sometimes gut-wrenching testimony on multiple charges of murder in connection with the deaths of three women and a child in 2014.
The Petersburg Circuit Court jury hearing the case went home after about three hours of deliberations and was scheduled to resume on Friday morning.
Before Judge Joseph M. Teefey Jr. gave the jury their instructions and sent them out to deliberate, he heard Hill’s formal waiver of his right to testify in his own defense. Hill answered each of Teefey’s questions with an almost inaudible “Yes.”
The prosecution had rested its case on Wednesday, and the defense rested on Thursday after calling just one witness, Dinwiddie County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dale Eichler, who was the Petersburg Bureau of Police’s forensic detective at the time of the quadruple murders at 721 Harding Street that Hill is accused of committing.
Early in the morning of Easter Sunday, April 19, 2014, 67-year-old Pauline Wilkins and 46-year-old Vicki Ansar were fatally stabbed and 22-year-old Tanique Chavis and her son, 2-year-old Delvari Chavis, died in a house fire Hill is accused of setting.
John Rockecharlie of the Richmond law firm Airington Andraos & Rockecharlie, who is representing Hill along with Douglas A. Ramseur of the Capital Defender’s office in Richmond, asked Eichler a brief series of questions about what time he arrived on the scene of the murders and what interaction he had with Detective Roosevelt Harris, who was in charge of collecting and preserving evidence.
Following Eichler’s appearance, Commonwealth’s Attorney Cheryl Wilson presented the prosecution’s closing argument. She reminded jurors about the testimony of Hill’s former girlfriend, Vivian Chavis, who told the court on Tuesday that Hill had called her repeatedly with threats to kill her and her family after their breakup in 2013.
Chavis – who is Wilkins’ daughter, Ansar’s sister, Tanique Chavis’ aunt and Delvari Chavis’ greataunt – obtained two protective orders against Hill, the second of them just over a week before the slayings.
Wilson noted that Vivian Chavis told the police about Hill’s threats just a couple of hours after the murders.
“They put the defendant [Hill] on their radar,” Wilson said.
But before the police could issue a bulletin, Hill was already on the run, Wilson said.
She reminded the jury about testimony from three witnesses who had identified Hill as the hazel-eyed man reeking of gasoline or kerosene that they encountered as he traveled from Petersburg to Rocky Mount, N.C., in the early morning hours of April 20, 2014.
According to Wilson, Hill had formed and executed a grim plan to kill everyone in the Harding Street house, and made sure the killing was
complete by setting fires inside both the front and back doors of the house to prevent anyone from escaping.
In Hill’s defense, Ramseur argued that he “is innocent in this case” and a victim of hostile police officers who fabricated or manipulated evidence to try to pin the crimes on Hill.
Ramseur sought to cast doubt on key evidence in the case – a cell phone belonging to Hill that was found in the back yard of the Harding Street house, the stories told by the North Carolina witnesses, and DNA analysis that showed Hill’s blood on a knife found at the scene and a T-shirt retrieved from an abandoned house next door to his motherin-law’s home.
The case, he said, was “nothing but a witch hunt led by Vivian Chavis.”
A recording of the 911 call made by Tanique Chavis at the time of the killings, Ramseur argued, proved that Hill couldn’t have been the killer, because she knew Hill but said during the call that she didn’t know the attacker.
In the prosecution’s rebuttal, Wilson replayed the 911 call. On the recording, Tanique Chavis spoke in whispers, and some of what she said was inaudible.
At one point, the 911 operator asked if she knew what the assailant was wearing and she answered, “No.”
The tape ended with the sound of screaming. Some of the members of the victims’ family who were present wept openly, and a couple of them left the courtroom.
Wilson called Ramseur’s argument “speculation” and said there was no evidence to support it.
“It’s easy to point blame everywhere when no facts are there,” she said. “We gave you facts.”
Hill faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on the most serious charges against him, multiple counts of capital murder. He also faces charges of arson, violating a protective order and failure to appear in court.