A Loudoun County Circuit Court jury yesterday convicted a Sterling man of first-degree murder in the March shooting death of an 18-year-old man outside the former Loudoun House apartments.
The jury deliberated 3 1/2 hours before finding that there was enough evidence to prove that Arlando Valentine, 25, gunned down Amos "Ty" Hicks on March 24 in a muddy courtyard that residents knew as "The Hole."
Prosecutors said Valentine shot Hicks, also of Sterling, once in the back and twice in the head at close range in retaliation for a fight the two men had earlier that day during an attempted drug buy.
Valentine "gets beat up," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Michelle L. Domen told jurors during closing arguments in the first-degree murder case. "He has his pride injured, and he goes back as he promised he would. The defendant wanted to have an execution-style murder. He wanted the victim to know who did it."
Defense attorneys agreed that Valentine and Hicks had fought that afternoon but said their client had spent the evening walking his dog in Sterling and visiting relatives in Washington. They noted that there is no physical evidence linking Valentine to the crime and that a gun has never been found.
During three days of testimony, prosecutors presented convicts who testified that Valentine bragged in jail about fabricating an alibi and hiding the gun. But their case rested largely on the eyewitness testimony of Nikkia Payne, 18, a friend of both Hicks's and Valentine's.
Payne, who had been romantically involved with Hicks, trembled on the stand Monday as she led jurors through the day of the shooting. She broke into tears when asked about the final moments of Hicks's life.
Prosecutors said that after Valentine's arrest, Payne received a death threat from an unidentified person who said Payne would be killed if she testified at the trial. Payne's testimony at a pretrial hearing in May was videotaped in case she refused to testify before a jury.
Payne initially testified Monday that she couldn't remember the shooting; she cried quietly on the stand as the judge excused the jury from the room.
Eventually she described the March day for the jurors.
Payne said she and Hicks decided to go to Kmart in Leesburg and were walking through the Loudoun House courtyard when she heard gunfire and watched her friend fall to the muddy ground.
"He told me to run," Payne said. "He was like, 'Run, they gonna get you.' "
Payne said she backed up a few steps and watched as a masked man walked up to Hicks and pointed a gun at his head. That man, she told jurors, was Valentine.
"I saw his face," Payne testified. "After he fired the first shot, he took [his mask] off and shot again."
Payne said the gunman jumped into a waiting white car. Meanwhile, she walked over to Hicks's body. "I just rubbed where he was shot and gave him a kiss," Payne said. "I was like, 'Ty, wake up. Wake up.' He was already dead."
Prosecutors said that Payne fled when police arrived because she was afraid but that she told her story a few days later.
Payne's account was contradicted by defense witness Tomeka Allen, who told jurors that she saw Payne inside her apartment building at Loudoun House seconds after shots were fired.
"Nikkia said, 'Don't go outside, somebody just got shot,' " Allen said. Allen said she then saw Payne leave the building and walk up to the body. "She said, 'Oh, my God, it's Ty,' " Allen said.
Defense attorney Paul Morrison argued that Payne's testimony was suspect because of her delay in talking to police. Allen, he said, had no reason to lie.
"Why would Nikkia Payne come forward to police three days later and not that night?" Morrison asked in closing arguments. "She knew her friend was involved in an altercation with Mr. Valentine. She assumed [Valentine] did it."
Morrison also noted that the prosecution had not presented any witnesses who saw Payne at the scene or watched her lean over Hicks to kiss him.
But Domen, the prosecutor, said Payne's difficulty in testifying about the traumatic day shows she told the truth.
"She looked into the eyes of a killer," Domen told the jury. "You saw how difficult that was for her. You watched her pause. You watched her struggle."
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Owen D. Basham noted that several other people who witnessed the shooting or its aftermath were too afraid to testify. He also said that Allen did not tell law enforcement officials her version of the story until last month.
"Why don't we have more witnesses?" Basham said during closing arguments. "Because they all ran like hell. They saw somebody shot in the head, and they wanted nothing to do with it."
Prosecutors said the fight that sparked the shooting broke out about 5 p.m. after Valentine and his girlfriend, Chevette Williams, tried to buy some marijuana from Hicks. Valentine told police that he never bought the drugs because he didn't like the way they smelled and that the fight started after Hicks insulted Williams.
Payne testified that she watched as Hicks, Valentine and a third man she didn't know "wrestled" on a Loudoun House lawn during the buy.
The fight finally broke up after Williams struck Hicks in the head with a bar designed to lock steering wheels, Payne said. The third man then struck Valentine in the head with the same bar.
Valentine and Williams retreated, Payne said. She testified that she heard a warning yelled from their car as they pulled out: "We'll be back. You gonna get yours."