Following a three-day trial last week, a Halifax County Circuit Court jury convicted a 58-year-old South Boston man of stabbing on June 26 at Willow Oaks Apartments.
Lionel Barnette – originally charged with second degree murder and maliciously aggravated bodily harm – was found guilty of intentional homicide and unlawful bodily harm.
The June 26 episode began with a verbal argument between Barnette and family friend Imil Wheeler, 48, of North Carolina, according to Halifax County Attorney Tracy Q. Martin.
When the argument got physical, Barnette’s adult daughter, Lavonnyea Ali of South Boston, stepped in to defuse the fight.
The altercation ended with Barnette stabbing and slashing Wheeler a total of eight times, Martin said. Ali was also cut.
South Boston Police Department officers responded to the emergency room at Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital after receiving a call about two stabbing victims, police reported last year.
Upon arrival, they found Wheeler suffering from multiple stab wounds and Ali with a stab in the arm. Wheeler was pronounced dead a few hours later.
Further investigation into the stabbings revealed the incident happened at the Willow Oaks apartments in the parking lot near Building 360, police said.
The jury returned a verdict on Wednesday after nearly five hours of deliberation. The trial began on April 25.
“The factual and legal issues in the case centered on whether the parties were engaged in mutual combat at the time of the murder, and whether the murder was committed maliciously or, after reasonable provocation, in the heat of passion,” Martin explained. in a press release.
The jury was told the difference between murder and manslaughter, she said. When malice is present, murder is murder under the law. When he is absent, the murder can only be manslaughter.
“The facts also raised questions of self-defense,” Martin said. These complicated issues probably caused hours of deliberation.
“Attempted murder would have required the intent to kill Ms. Ali, Barnette’s daughter,” Martin said. “The evidence indicated that Ms. Ali’s injuries were not intentional or directed at her, but rather, occurred while Barnette was attempting to get to Wheeler.”
That’s why Martin dropped that accusation from the get-go, she said.
“But because he injured her with ill intent towards Wheeler, Ms Ali’s charge of maliciously injuring Ms. Ali was appropriate to put to the jury,” he explained.
Martin said she was happy with the result.
“The jury’s verdict holds Lionel Barnette responsible for Mr. Wheeler’s death and Ms. Ali’s serious injuries,” she wrote in the statement. “You can’t bring a knife to a fight and think you won’t go to jail.”
Additionally, after speaking to Wheeler’s family and Ali, Martin believes the victims were also happy with the jury’s decision.
“It has become increasingly difficult to find jurors to sit on our cases,” Martin noted. “I am deeply grateful to the jurors in this case for listening carefully to all of the evidence before making their decision. The work of the jury is what makes our criminal justice system work.
Barnette’s sentencing is scheduled for 1 p.m. on June 30.