MADISON — An element of big-city crime came to this mountain hamlet Friday at a four-hour preliminary hearing for accused triple murderer Rashad Riddick, 24, of Newport News.
General District Judge Roger Morton, of Culpeper, ultimately certified the case to a grand jury, which meets March 5.
Riddick faces capital murder charges in the Feb. 11, 2011, shooting deaths of his uncle, James Clark Jackson, 55; his aunt, Karen Lee Jackson, 53; and her daughter, Chante Davis, 26, at their home in rural Madison County. He could get the death penalty if convicted.
The Jacksons lived and worked on farm near Woodberry Forest School, off U.S. 15. Davis lived there with her young son, who was staying with a relative the night of the killings.
Riddick had previously spent time on the farm with his aunt and uncle. He was staying in their modest home the night of the slayings, having just completed a six-year prison term for carjacking and assault and battery on a police officer, among other charges.
According to testimony Friday, Riddick was apparently romantically involved with Davis, in whose room he was sleeping.
And according to shocking testimony heard in court, he allegedly went there with the intent of murder.
The crime was previously reported as occurring Feb. 12, 2011, but Madison County Commonwealth’s Attorney George Webb said authorities believe it happened the night before — sometime after 8:45 p.m., when Davis answered the last call on her cell phone.
The mood Friday in the tiny courtroom was nervous as Webb put on nine witnesses, including Riddick’s cousin, Tyrone Johnson, also of Newport News.
Police presence was high with at least a dozen uniformed and plain clothes officers stationed all over. Riddick had cuffs and chains at both his hands and feet. The courtroom was nearly full with friends and families of both sides present.
In lengthy testimony that at times was unintelligible, contradictory, chilling and confrontational, Johnson, an admitted convicted felon out on bail, revealed the closest thing to a motive heard yet.
According to Johnson, later on the night of Feb. 11 in Newport News, he met up with Riddick, who was driving an orange-colored truck, later identified as belonging to James Jackson, who went by Clark. Behind the seat in the truck was the “blue bag” later established to contain the murder weapon — a .410 gauge shotgun.
While Johnson testified repeatedly that he did not know what was in the bag, he said he was present when Riddick got the gun in question, which according to the witness, the defendant purchased “for $80 and some weed.” Looking at pictures of the weapon, later recovered by police, Johnson testified they were one and the same.
“He had [the gun] on him all the time,” Johnson said.
He further testified that Riddick told him, “Someone’s got to pay.”
According to Johnson, one of the Jacksons had previously reported to police that Riddick stole a car.
“He said he was going to kill them,” Johnson said. “I didn’t believe it. He was high.”
Johnson later testified when Riddick returned from Madison County late on the evening of Feb. 11, he told him, “Mission accomplished.” Johnson said he didn’t know what Riddick was talking about.
Witness Shalimar Best, of Newport News, testified he saw Riddick — whom he said he grew up with — Feb. 12 driving the orange truck belonging to his uncle. He confirmed a picture of Jackson’s truck, reported missing the day after the killings, was the same one Riddick was driving.
Best, who also faces felony charges in Newport News, said Riddick asked him to get rid of a bag in the truck. The witness then said he gave the bag — with the gun in it — to Tyrone Johnson. Best also said he didn’t know what was in the bag. Best also admitted he previously lied to a grand jury in the capital murder case in saying that he never drove the truck.
When he did drive Jackson’s truck, the weekend after the killings, Best testified, “I grabbed the bag and threw it in the dark” behind an apartment complex. He learned that same weekend that Riddick was wanted in the Madison County triple homicides, Best said.
Months later, the witness said, Tyrone Johnson contacted him about the bag, which they then recovered and turned into Madison County Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Harvey, lead investigator in the case.
“He wanted to clear his name,” said Best. “I told the investigator I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Added Johnson, during his testimony, “They said they knew we had the gun. I said I didn’t want no parts of it. I don’t have nothing to do with this,” he said repeatedly, clearly agitated with repetitive questioning by defense attorney Joseph Flood of Fairfax. “I gave Detective Harvey the bag because I wanted to do the right thing.”
In another dramatic moment, prosecutor Webb asked the witness to identify the person in the courtroom who told him to throw out the bag with the gun.
“I’d rather not,” Best said, standing still.
Eventually, he pointed at Riddick.
Harvey testified he recovered the gun from Johnson on Aug. 15, 2011, after receiving a phone call. Harvey testified Johnson told him in the call, “If you’re looking for a gun I think I might know where it’s at.”
Chante Davis’ sister, Hope Davis, daughter of Karen Jackson, said she visited their farm the night of the killings. She said Riddick was present, and that, “He was staying in my sister’s room.” She said Chante had gone to Newport News to pick him up.
“He grew up with us,” said Hope Davis.
She said she left the farm at about 8:45 p.m. Feb. 11, 2011.
Sister Candace Davis said she went to the farm a few weeks after to remove her parents’ and sister’s belongings. In sweeping up her sister’s room, where Riddick was staying, Candace said a shotgun shell rolled out from under a dresser. Riddick’s DNA was later found on the unspent shell, which matched the spent shells found in and outside the house during the murder investigation.
Both sisters said their mother and stepfather never kept guns in the house because of grandchildren always being around.
At the end of Friday’s hearing, Webb moved to certify the charges to the grand jury, providing further evidence against the accused, including the presence of Clark and Karen Jackson’s DNA on the murder weapon.
Defense attorney Flood said the prosecution failed to present evidence regarding time of death. He warned the court that Riddick is entitled to a presumption of innocence.
“I don’t think there has been a showing here that he committed the crime,” Flood said. “This is a circumstantial case that turns on a liar and a perjurer.”
Judge Morton said there was no doubt the shotgun was the murder weapon, saying there was ample evidence to certify the case.
“How else did that truck get to Newport News?” the judge said.
Morton said the men who testified for the commonwealth were “no babes in the woods.”
“These folks are streetwise people,” he said. “I think they know how things work.”
Attorney Steven Rosenfeld of Charlottesville is also representing Riddick.
Champion reports for the Culpeper Star-Exponent.