October 2, 2013
Prosecutors for the Commonwealth painted a picture of how two murder victims spent their last days alive before resting its first-degree murder case against 28-year-old Taybronne White Wednesday in Greene County Court.
A friend of two of the victims, Dustin Knighton and Brian Daniels, testified the two men spent the majority of the day and early evening hours of May 2, 2011 at her house in Charlottesville. The bodies of Knighton, Daniels, and a third victim, Lisa Hwang, were found around 2:30AM on May 3, 2011 on the side of a rural road in Greene County. White is facing first-degree murder charges in their deaths.
On the witness stand, Jessica Houchens described a day of drinking and "hanging out" leading up to the murders. She told jurors White joined the group that evening at her home in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlottesville. Houchens said that night was the first time she met White, using the nickname "Sleepy" when referring to him on the stand. During cross-examination, Houchens testified Daniels gave her an Ecstasy pill and she left the three men at her house and went to her sister's house nearby to put her young son to sleep. She said when she returned to her home around 3:00AM, they were gone.
Prosecutors say White shot and killed Knighton, Daniels, and Hwang that night after a botched robbery and home invasion on Ford Avenue in Greene County. Last week during trial testimony, a man named Jermaine Frye told jurors he was at his mother's home when two masked men kicked in the front door, waving guns and demanding money. Investigators say the two masked men were Knighton and White, and that they were trying to rob a known drug dealer's house, but got the wrong address.
On Wednesday, prosecutors called Whitley Jackson to the witness stand. She testified several of her family members lived in homes on Ford Avenue, including one next door to the Fryes. Four of those homes were part of a federal drug raid in the end of 2011, resulting in the seizure of money and drugs.
At the time of the triple homicide, Jackson lived on Heights Hill in Greene County with her boyfriend, Brian Dudley and two other men who she told jurors were all involved in drug dealing. Additionally, Jermaine Jones and John Carter, frequented the home and took part in the sale of marijuana and crack cocaine. Jackson told jurors the men kept $10,000 in cash buried in the yard.
The night of May 2, 2011, Jackson testified she woke to a loud noise of glass shattering, but she didn't see or hear anyone when she got out of bed. Prosecutors say White and Knighton were looking for Jermaine Jones and that $10,000 of cash, and mistakenly ended up in the home of Jermaine Frye on Ford Avenue. That mistake may have led to murder.
Jones is currently in prison on unrelated drug charges and Carter is facing conspiracy charges in the murder of Knighton, Daniels, and Hwang, with a trial date scheduled for later this month. Houchens also faces felony conspiracy charges in the triple homicide, but those charges were nolle prosequi – meaning the prosecution voluntarily dropped the issue, but could decide to move forward with the charges in the future.
On cross-examination Wednesday, defense attorney Edward Ungvarsky asked Houchens if the prosecution's decision on her charges had anything to do with her cooperating with law enforcement. Ungvarsky asked Houchens why she didn't contact police when she found out about the murders.
"I was scared," Houchens said. "My two best friends were dead and the last person I seen them with was not. I had no idea where he was."
Houchens said she moved out of her house the day after the murders. But Ungvarsky pointed out White was arrested shortly after the murders and pressed Houchens on why she waited until after her own arrest nearly a year later before cooperating in the case.
Before resting his case, prosecutor Ron Morris called three other witnesses to the stand to discuss evidence collection, including the owner of Ragged Mountain Running, Mark Lorenzoni, who testified as an expert on shoe size.
The defense will begin presenting its case Thursday morning. Attorneys for both sides say they expect closing argument to wrap up by the end of the week.
Oct. 2, 2013
The Taybronne White murder trial in Greene County began Wednesday morning with testimony from the last woman to see the three victims alive.
Jessica Houchens told jurors two of the victims, Dustin Knighton and Brian Daniels spent the day leading up to the murders at her home in Charlottesville drinking beer and hanging out.
She testified Taybronne White also came over to her house.
White is accused of shooting and killing Knighton, Daniels, and a third victim, Lisa Hwang, in May of 2011.
Houchens did not contact police for a year after the murder, until she was facing felony charges for conspiracy in the case.