STANARDSVILLE — A Greene County jury Monday evening found Taybronne Altereik White guilty of killing three people in 2011.
Closing arguments centered on DNA evidence. The jury of five white men, one black man and six white women started deliberating at 3 p.m. They convicted White nearly five hours later of first-degree murder in the death of Lisa Hwang, 26, and of two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths Dustin Knighton, 25, and Brian Robert Daniels, 26.
Their bodies were found that morning dumped on Octonia Road just north of Stanardsville on May 3, 2011.
Greene County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronald Morris argued that evidence that could not be excluded as matching White’s DNA profile was “central to the heart of the case.” Defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky argued against the credibility of the DNA evidence.
Authorities said White ditched Hwang’s Honda Civic near his Mallside Forest apartment and turned himself in several days later. He also was accused of breaking into a home, striking Willie Roy in the face with a pistol and demanding money.
White was found not guilty of an aggravated malicious wounding charge in that break-in.
Morris called the killings a “ghastly, heinous crime.”
Morris named five pieces of evidence as key to proving White’s guilt: a blue-and-white bandana, a cigarette butt and 9 mm pistol found at the Octonia Road crime scene; a DNA swab taken from Hwang’s car and a black T-shirt found on a roadside.
Those items were “not coincidence, cannot be coincidence and cannot be ignored,” Morris argued.
The prosecutor said the crimes began with a botched home invasion at the home of Roy and Jermaine Frye. Morris reminded the jury that a forensic scientist testified that a right shoe found alongside U.S. 29 matched the print of a shoe found on the door to Roy and Frye’s home.
“That right shoe was at both scenes,” Morris said, holding up the footwear to jurors.
It was “significant,” said Morris, that Hwang’s car was found parked on Old Brook Road in Albemarle County near the Mallside Forest apartment complex where prosecutors said White was living at the time.
Blood stains from which a forensic scientist said DNA profiles of all three victims couldn’t be excluded were inside the car, Morris said.
Ungvarsky countered by citing differences in how Roy described the height, age and skin tone of the attackers.
“The case starts and ends here,” Ungvarsky said.
He pointed to the possibility of DNA evidence being present from an unknown person on items such as the shoes, the size of which Ungvarsky said differed from that normally worn by White.
“Someone else was wearing the shoes,” Ungvarsky said. “That’s evidence. Reason to doubt.”
Gene types appeared in some of the DNA that did not match White’s, Ungvarsky said.
Ungvarsky suggested that Knighton could have shot Hwang and that there could have been another person involved, shooting from outside her car.
Ungvarsky also cited unexamined evidence, including a cell phone found in Hwang’s car, and people who were possibly involved, including the last known owner of the 9 mm pistol, who were not interviewed or whose DNA was not checked against the evidence.
Ungvarsky criticized the handling of some evidence, touching on former Greene County evidence technician James Shifflett’s embezzlement of money from about 30 cases, including the investigation into the triple killings. On the fourth day of the trial, testimony revealed that DNA swabs used to rule out two men as suspects in the case had disappeared from bins of evidence.
White’s lawyer also referred to a police bloodhound, Maggie, working the case on the day of the killings and leading her handler from Hwang’s car on a path away from White’s Mallside Forest apartment and toward the Abbington Crossing apartment complex. The brother of the man who owned the 9 mm pistol lived at Abbington Crossing, Ungvarsky said.
“Maggie led police to where they had to go, and they didn’t follow,” he said.
Ungvarsky urged jurors not to compromise on lesser charges. “He is not guilty of everything,” he said. “He wasn’t there, he didn’t do it. ... Taybronne White is not guilty.”
In his rebuttal, Morris revisited testimony from forensic scientists about DNA present on the five items he cited earlier.
“We ask you to think about it, and when you do, you’ll find the five pieces of evidence point irresistibly to the defendant committing the crimes,” Morris said.
Morris asked jurors not to focus on “distractions” that Ungvarsky pointed out in his argument.
“We ask you to follow the law and find verdicts of guilty,” Morris said.
White was found guilty of several other charges. These include three counts of using a firearm while committing or attempting murder, possessing a firearm after having previously been convicted as a felon, and three charges related to the break-in: burglary, attempted robbery, and using a firearm while attempting robbery.
The trial continues this morning and has moved into the sentencing phase.