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No ‘heat of passion’: State Court of Appeals upholds 2023 Dinwiddie murder conviction

In World
June 11, 2024

RICHMOND – The Virginia Court of Appeals has denied a Brunswick County man’s request to overturn his life sentence for first-degree murder, claiming that the crime does not fit the criteria for manslaughter as he asked for during his trial.

In an opinion released Tuesday, a three-judge panel said that Dinwiddie Circuit Court Judge Dennis Martin was proper in disallowing a jury instruction from Anthony Lamont Brown’s attorney. That instruction would have allowed jurors to convict Brown of voluntary manslaughter in the 2021 death of Waekuon Johnson, who was shot at a party in northern Dinwiddie County.

Brown’s lawyers claimed that their client acted in the “heat of passion” because he reportedly had an argument with the victim prior to the shooting. However, witnesses testified that while Brown appeared to have had a few words with Johnson, he and others randomly began firing their weapons as Johnson and others were running away from them.

According to court records, the shooting happened after a report of a domestic assault at the party. The man accused of that assault was shot in the stomach but survived.

Brown was an apparent bystander to the assault, trial testimony showed. He initially denied being at the party when the shots rang out.

Johnson was shot in the back. Sheriff’s deputies testified at trial that when they first approached the scene, Johnson’s body was lying in a roadside ditch surrounded by onlookers.

In the opinion, the panel backed Martin’s denial of voluntary manslaughter because it does not fit how the Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court define the crime: “the unlawful killing of another, ‘committed in the course of a sudden quarrel, or mutual combat, or upon a sudden provocation, and without any previous grudge, and the killing is from the sudden heat of passion growing solely out of the quarrel, or combat, or provocation.” Since there was no clear evidence presented that Brown shot Johnson under any of the circumstances, the panel said that Martin was justified in denying a voluntary-manslaughter jury instruction.

“This Court has been clear that ‘words alone, no matter how insulting, are never sufficient to constitute heat of passion’ that would reduce a murder to voluntary manslaughter,” the opinion read. “Here, for Brown to have been entitled to an instruction on voluntary manslaughter, the evidence would have had to have supported a conclusion that he intentionally killed [Johnson] as a result of heat of passion engendered by a provocation from something more than a mere exchange of words.”

In addition to the murder charge, Brown was convicted of malicious assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony – a total of six years on top of his life sentence for first-degree murder. Now 31, he is being held at the Buckingham County Correctional Center.

Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at batkinson@progress-index.com or on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @BAtkinson_PI.

This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: Virginia appeals court upholds murder conviction in Dinwiddie County

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