A Fauquier County Circuit Court jury found Leon P. Smith, 16, guilty of first-degree murder tonight in the stoning death of a 12-year-old girl last summer.
Smith, who was tried as an adult, was also convicted of abduction and aggravated sexual battery against the girl, Melissa Lee Bushrod, whose badly beaten body was found Aug. 5 in a dry creek bed near the community of Morgantown. The jury deliberated about 2 1/2 hours.
Smith, who displayed no emotion on hearing the verdict, could be sentenced to up to life in prison. Judge W. Shore Robertson postponed sentencing, and Smith remains in custody without bond. His attorney, John W. Wine, said an appeal is planned.
Smith took the witness stand in his own defense today to say he and a companion were in a wooded area with the girl and panicked when they heard her relatives searching for her. Smith said he threw only two small stones at Melissa.
Officials testified that several bloodied rocks were lying near Melissa's body, one weighing 50 pounds.
Prosecutors charged that Smith and Darren W. King, also 16, forced Melissa from her home, where she was babysitting with her younger brother, into the wooded area and then sexually attacked her.
The prosecution argued that after hearing Melissa's older relatives, who were returning home from a brief shopping trip, call out the girl's name, the youths took her to a ravine and blugeoned her to death.
"We panicked, we got scared," Smith said from the witness stand. He said that at that point he and King grabbed Melissa around the neck and took her to the creek bed.
"I threw two rocks at her," the tall, heavy-set Smith told the jury in a clear, even voice.
He testified that he unbuttoned the girl's shirt while King unzipped her pants. But he said he did not have sex with the girl, who he said never resisted during the incident.
He also denied choking and kicking Melissa and said both rocks he threw at her were small.
Earlier, a sheriff's deputy and a former investigator for the sheriff's department testified that Smith told them a different version of the incident after his arrest on the night of Melissa's death.
"He said that he dragged her down to the ravine, that he had sex with her," said Deputy Butler Grant. "He admitted to choking her."
Smith also told of kicking Melissa and of holding a rock "the size of a wastebasket" above him and then dropping it on the girl's head, according to Maynard Bright, the former investigator.
Smith testified today he could not remember the statements he made to Grant and Bright. He also said he did not know if the girl was dead when he fled the scene.
Closing arguments to the jury focused on the differences between Smith's testimony and that of Grant and Bright.
"I submit to you that the girl put up a fight," Fauquier Commonwealth's Attorney Jonathan S. Lynn said, recalling Melissa's scattered clothing and jewelry, which investigators found at the scene. "The acts committed against this girl were willful, deliberate and cruel," Lynn said.
Defense attorney Wine said the jury could be certain only that Smith threw rocks -- not that these killed Melissa nor that he was guilty of the other charges.
"The girl is dead, I know that," Wine said. "But the commonwealth has not given you the kind of evidence you need to find [Smith] guilty."
King is scheduled to stand trial as an adult next month in Melissa's death.