An Alexandria Circuit Court jury last night recommended the death penalty for a 34-year-old North Carolina native who shot and killed an Alexandria deputy sheriff on the steps of the city jail last January with the officer's own gun.
The four-man, eight-woman jury deliberated for more than four hours on the sentence after convicting Wilbert Lee Evans of capital murder in the death of Deputy William G. Truesdale, 47. The only alternative punishment for the charge, according to Virginia law, would have been life imprisonment.
"I'm satisfied," said an emotional Zita Truesdale, wife of the slain deputy, who sat with other family members through the three-day proceedings. Evans, seated and facing the jury with his hands clasped in front of his face, showed no reaction to the recommendation that could send him to the electric chair.
By state law, the case will automatically be appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. But if that process fails, Evans will become the 13th person in the state currently on death row, according to the state's Department of Corrections.
Evans will be sentenced May 21.
Evans also was convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a felony and received a one-year sentence on that charge from Circuit Court Judge Wiley R. Wright Jr.
A North Carolina native who had been brought to Alexandria to testify at an extradition hearing the day before the incident, Evans was charged with fatally shooting Truesdale in the chest with the officer's revolver as he was being escorted back to the city jail.
Alexandria chief prosecutor John Kloch argued that Evans planned the shooting in his cell the night before and carried it out willfully, the legal criteria in Virginia for a capital murder conviction.
"At some point in time, society has to say we've had enough," Kloch told the jury in asking for the death penalty. "We've had enough of Wilbert Lee Evans . . . life imprisonment is not going to stop this man."
The jury could have convicted Evans of second-degree murder, which carries a five- to 20-year sentence, or involuntary manslaughter, which carries a penalty of one to five years.
They rejected both, despite arguments by defense attorney Stefan Long, who said that Evans shot Truesdale in order to escape and not with the intention of killing him.
"[Evans] tried to shoot his handcuffs off. He didn't shoot the deputy four times, or three times . . . he shot him once and only used the weapon again to shoot himself," Long said.
After a wild chase through the streets of Old Town during early rush hour traffic, Alexandria police cornered Evans in a parking lot near the 300 block of North Washington Street. Evans wounded himself with a gunshot in the side before officers reached him.
Evans testified during the three-day trial that the shot that killed Truesdale was aimed at his handcuffs. But Kloch produced testimony from inmates who quoted Evans as saying he would kill anyone who stood in the way of his escape. A ballistics expert testified that Truesdale's fatal gunshot wound was fired from a distance no more than a half-inch from his body.
Virginia has not executed a man for murder since 1962. The last death sentence was imposed on James Briley in Henrico County near Richmond in March of 1980.