Va. man pleads guilty to assault charges in street fight that resulted in death

An alleged member of the Bloods street gang pleaded guilty Monday in Prince William County Circuit Court to two counts of assault and battery after beating a man he overheard “disrespecting” another gang member.

Justin Lee Finley, 24, also pleaded no contest to two charges of felony criminal gang participation, which means he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him on the charges.

Finley and another gang member beat John Henry Jackson II during a fight in Manassas on St. Patrick’s Day last year, when residents and friends in the Georgetown South community were out on Aspen Place, grilling food and talking during a block party.

Jackson spent months in the hospital. At one point, he came out of a coma and was beginning a slow rehabilitation.

But due to a severe brain injury, he relapsed and died about three months after the fight, prosecutors said.

There were no weapons involved, and authorities do not think anyone was meant to be killed.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney D. Bradley Marshall said in court that Finley has numerous tattoos consistent with those of a Bloods gang member. The gang is thought to have a presence throughout Northern Virginia.

Prosecutors dropped a murder charge as part of the plea agreement. Authorities thought that it was another gang member, Stephon Damont Greene, 21, who delivered the fatal blows to Jackson.

Greene, of the 10000 block of Lavender Flower Court in Manassas, pleaded guilty in May to involuntary manslaughter, criminal participation in a gang and assault and battery, according to prosecutors.

He faces up to 21 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 26.

Greene said in a letter to the court that he was sorry for the way the fight had turned out. He also apologized to Jackson’s mother, Margaret Thomas.

“I apologize for the lost [sic] of your son,” he wrote.

He said that if a comment about the prominent Bloods member had not been made, the fight would not have happened. “I had a great relationship with your son. . . . I’m so sorry I feel bad real bad.”

Attorneys for Finley and Greene, Christopher Finch and Scott Swajger, respectively, declined to comment.

At Monday’s plea hearing, Finley stood and said “yes” to a series of questions from substitute Circuit Court Judge John E. Kloch, acknowledging his guilt on the assault charges. Kloch accepted the guilty pleas and set a sentencing date of Nov. 21. Finley will face a maximum of 22 years in prison.

Thomas, Jackson’s mother, listened in the courtroom and said later that events of the past year had been “hard — and it’s still hard.” She said Jackson had a 2-year-old daughter.

She said that she’s not sure what should happen to Finley and Greene.

“Either way, I lost my child,” she said. The defendants “are children too. Either way, my child is gone, he’s not coming back.

“I feel the defendant boy has no heart,” she added.

Another of Thomas’s sons, Jonathan McKinley Thomas, 29, also was beaten and knocked unconscious by Finley and Greene during the St. Patrick’s Day fight. Jonathan Thomas has recovered.

Manassas police have targeted Georgetown South for increased enforcement and patrols in recent months to combat crime.

Meg Carroll, a former Manassas police officer who is the community manager in Georgetown South, said that “things are definitely getting better.”

But she said that there are signs that gangs and other criminal elements remain “alive and well” in the neighborhood.

She said that she hopes to work with police and city officials to ensure the improvement continues.

“I know there’s still drugs going on . . . [and] I know it still has a bad reputation,” she said of the neighborhood.

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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