Daily Press (Sunday)

Jury acquits man of 4 Portsmouth slayings

Raymond Gore was accused of 2022 killings at Prentis Park house

- By Jane Harper Staff writer Jane Harper, jane.harper @pilotonlin­e.com

PORTSMOUTH — A jury took a little less than an hour Friday to acquit a man accused of murdering four residents of a Prentis Park home in June 2022.

Raymond Lee Gore closed his eyes and nodded when the first verdicts were read. The 58-yearold would have faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted of the most serious charge against him. Instead, he was set to be released from jail Friday night.

The shooting happened at a five-bedroom home at the corner of Maple Avenue and Randolph Street. Davonta Georgio Lee, 30; Ashley Merricks, 34; Oleisha Deanna Mears, 37; and Samuel Jones, 66, were killed.

Three victims were pronounced dead at the scene, but Jones died a few days later. He told arriving officers the shooters were two young Black males, and that he’d never seen them before.

Gore, 56 at the time, and his nephew, Antwann Gore, who was in his 40s, were charged two months later. Michael Canty, an inmate at the city jail with an extensive criminal history, contacted police and told them he knew who the gunmen were. Canty offered to provide the informatio­n in exchange for favorable treatment in his criminal cases.

But charges against both men were later dismissed by two different Portsmouth judges after defense lawyers attacked inconsiste­ncies in Canty’s statements and his credibilit­y as a witness. Prosecutor­s then took the cases to a grand jury and got the charges reinstated.

Canty — whom Deputy Commonweal­th’s Attorney Chris Warman referred to as the prosecutio­n’s star witness — testified on the second day of Gore’s trial, which began Tuesday.

He said he was standing a block away when he saw Raymond Gore and another man interactin­g outside the house where the shooting occurred. Next, he said he saw Raymond Gore and his nephew walk up to the front door of the house and knock. Merricks answered and Raymond Gore shot her, Canty said.

During cross-examinatio­n, defense attorney Michael Massie grilled Canty on difference­s in statements he gave to police on two different occasions, and his testimony in court. Among them were Canty’s earlier claims that he could see from a block away Raymond Gore hand a $100 bill to the other man outside the house before the shootings, and could hear what they were saying.

He also initially told police the gunmen were in a black pickup, but changed it to a black SUV after a detective asked him if it could be an SUV. Police believed Gore and his nephew had access to a black SUV.

Canty also conceded that prosecutor­s had assisted him in his criminal cases in multiple jurisdicti­ons, including getting a robbery charge reduced to misdemeano­r assault and battery with no jail time. They also were helping him with his room and board, he said.

On Wednesday, Portsmouth Circuit Judge Brenda Spry called for a recess and sent the jury out after she saw Canty texting while

on the witness stand. When Spry asked him if he was messaging about the case, Canty denied it.

The judge then asked to see his phone and saw that he was texting his sister about it. In one exchange, Canty wrote he was “still on the stand. I’m trying to save me.”

Prosecutor­s then drafted an immunity agreement for Canty in which they promised not to seek a perjury charge against him for lying to the judge. The jury was then called back into the courtroom and told about the texts and the immunity offer.

At times it seemed as if the case wouldn’t make it to the jury. After the defense made a motion Thursday asking for the charges to be dismissed because they believed the prosecutio­n had failed to prove its case, Spry said she was “struggling” with it because it seemed to “rely completely” on Canty’s testimony.

After much back and forth between the sides, she let it go forward. On Friday, she granted a defense request to take the jury to the crime scene so they could see where Canty was standing when he said he saw Gore and the other men interactin­g outside the house.

Also on Friday, Spry dismissed several of Gore’s charges because of errors in the indictment­s, which listed all four victims for each charge when they should have only listed one victim per charge.

In a statement issued after the verdict, Portsmouth Commonweal­th’s Attorney Stephanie Morales wrote that while her office was disappoint­ed with it, they respected the jury’s decision.

“Our attorneys presented the evidence as it was revealed during the investigat­ive process,” Morales wrote. “Although the outcome was not as we hoped, our team will continue to stand by the families of the four innocent victims whose lives were lost to this horrendous crime that should never have happened and which must not be tolerated in our city.”

Charges against Antwann Gore are still pending. His case is scheduled for trial in June.

 ?? STAFF FILE ?? A makeshift memorial adorns the lawn where four people were killed a Portsmouth boarding house in June 2022. Three victims died at the scene and the other died later at a hospital.
STAFF FILE A makeshift memorial adorns the lawn where four people were killed a Portsmouth boarding house in June 2022. Three victims died at the scene and the other died later at a hospital.
 ?? ?? Gore

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