A former Fairfax County parks employee was found not guilty of murder Wednesday in the stabbing death of a caterer following a dispute that spiraled out of control at an August 2016 wedding.
A Fairfax County jury returned the verdict for Kempton A. Bonds, 20, of Clifton, Va., after deliberating for a little over three hours. The trial followed another that ended in a mistrial this summer, after that jury failed to reach a verdict.
Bonds was overseeing the wedding at a Chantilly park, while the 35-year-old victim, Tyonne Johns, of the District, was catering it. Afterward, the pair and members of the wedding party got into a verbal argument over chairs while cleaning up. It ended with Bonds stabbing Johns with a three-inch pocket knife.
A prosecutor and defense attorney spent seven days sparring over whether Bonds was the aggressor or defending himself against an attack by Johns, which followed a tension-filled wedding.
The central piece of evidence in the case was dramatic audio of the encounter, which Bonds captured in a cellphone video and was played repeatedly in court. Wedding guests are heard angrily hurling insults at Bonds for minutes, before Johns approaches him and says: "I'm gonna knock you out."
The action happens off-camera, but scuffling sounds are heard and the camera shakes.
Afterward, a man can be heard saying, "You hit a girl." Johns is heard saying, "Oh, you stabbed me," before Bonds screams for police.
Bonds testified at trial that Johns was attacking him and he feared for his life, so he pulled out the knife he regularly used on the job and stabbed Johns twice. The blade pierced her heart and she later died.
"I couldn't breathe and she was strangling me," Bonds told the jury. "I tried to push her off me, but she wouldn't let go."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Brandon Shapiro countered in his closing argument that Bonds's use of force was out of proportion with the threat he faced.
"She did not have to die," Shapiro said. "A knife was not necessary. Mr. Bonds could have left the scene."
Earlier in the trial, he said Bonds had been on a "power trip" at the wedding, unnecessarily inserting himself into the proceedings and rankling the wedding party. Bonds and the bride and groom argued over decorations, the music and the length of the wedding.
Police were called to the scene five times before the stabbing occurred.
The courtroom was tense as the verdict was read. Family and friends of Johns burst into tears and one yelled out that Bonds was a "murderer." Bonds and his attorney embraced in a bear hug.
Both Shapiro and defense attorney Peter Greenspun called the case a tragedy. Johns was running an up-and-coming catering company, while Bonds was scheduled to leave for college in the weeks after the killing.
Following the trial, Bonds said the outcome was the right one.
"I'm just glad I can get this all behind me," he said. "The truth is what mattered and the truth came out."