After four hours of deliberation, a Charlottesville jury on Wednesday found Gerald Francis Jackson guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a lesser charge than the second-degree murder count he was charged with, and recommended a 10-year prison sentence.
Jackson, 61, was charged with second-degree murder after city police officers responded to an emergency call in the Belmont neighborhood in January. Jackson’s neighbor, Richard Wayne Edwards, 55, was found dead in his apartment at 1100 Cherry St. with wounds to his neck and left ear.
During closing arguments Wednesday in Charlottesville Circuit Court, city Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania reiterated that the case was not about what happened but about who did it.
As he walked the jury back through evidence and testimony presented during the trial, Platania pointed out that Jackson’s attorney had disputed very little of the evidence. All the evidence pointed to Edwards being fatally wounded by a red-handled screwdriver, which Jackson mentioned unprompted in several conversations with police.
“For reasons unknown at the time, [Jackson] was fixated on this screwdriver,” Platania said. “And we now know that the screwdriver was found with [Edwards’] blood on it.”
Though a motive for the killing was never established, Platania asked the jury to find Jackson guilty of second-degree murder, arguing that the facts presented were sufficient for such a conviction.
Chris Graham, Jackson’s attorney, urged the jury to consider his client’s state of mind the night of the incident. Jackson had been drunk and had been up for hours when he talked with police at 4:30 a.m. the morning of the crime, he said.
Graham said his client had taken his shirt off his back to try to stop Edwards, his friend, from bleeding out. Despite a lack of any evidence that Jackson had done this, aside from Jackson’s comments to police, Graham said he believed he could spot a shirt in photographs of the crime scene.
Police did not find a bloody shirt, and earlier, Platania had called Jackson’s statement “self-serving.”
“I contend that the facts that exist do not render a finding of sufficient guilt,” Graham said, closing out his argument.
After deliberating for four hours, the jury returned with a guilty verdict for voluntary manslaughter. Some of the jurors appeared uncomfortable with the verdict and refused to look in the direction of Edwards’ family in the gallery.
Edwards’ sister, Tara Williams, traveled from Florida to give victim impact testimony.
Though she had not seen her brother in nearly a decade, Williams said he was a “kind-hearted man” who, despite his flaws, truly loved his family.
In the years since their mother died, Williams said she and her brother had grown distant due to his alcohol-abuse problems. Photos of the crime scene were the first time she had seen what had become of her brother.
She asked the jury to consider the impact of Jackson’s crime and his violent criminal past, which included multiple domestic assault and battery convictions.
“Please consider [Jackson’s] violent past crimes and actions toward my brother so no family has to go through this again,” she said.
After deliberating for approximately 30 minutes on a suggested sentence, the jurors returned with a recommendation of 10 years of incarceration — the maximum allowed under the guidelines. A judge will formally sentence Jackson at a separate hearing.
Following the trial, Platania said he was pleased by the verdict and recommended sentence and thanked the jurors for their diligence.
“This was a very attentive group and we’re thankful for their service and believe [the sentence] was appropriate under the facts of the case,” he said.