HUNTINGTON — Although attorneys worked through more than a dozen motions Tuesday in a 2017 Huntington murder case, the case’s judge worries there is still too much pretrial work to be done before the case will be ready for trial, which is set to occur at the end of the month.
Quenton Avery Sheffield, 27, was charged with murder in the death of 20-year-old Aaron William Black and the malicious wounding of 21-year-old Sydney Rice after a shooting about 1 a.m. Sept. 2, 2017, at an apartment in the 1700 block of Williams Avenue in Huntington. The incident became the city’s ninth homicide investigation of 2017 when Black later died of his injuries in the hospital.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Cabell County Magistrate Court, Rice told police she went into a bedroom as Sheffield entered an apartment before the shooting and had a conversation with Black. Rice heard Black make a “yelp” noise a short time later, and Sheffield allegedly entered her room with a gun in his hand and shot her.
The complaint alleges that Sheffield fired once and struck Rice in the face, at which point Rice said she acted dead until he left the room and she was able to call 911. After Sheffield left the house, Rice went to find Black, who had been shot several times.
Sheffield is slated to go to trial Oct. 28, but after hearing more than a dozen pretrial motions Tuesday, Cabell Circuit Judge Christopher D. Chiles said he has concerns it will not happen. One hearing to continue the motions hearing has been set for 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, and at least one more is expected to happen. After reassurance from the case attorneys, defense attorneys Janice Givens and Jason Wible and assistant prosecutor Lauren Plymale, he did not reset the trial date with hopes it will move forward.
While settling on most of the motions Thursday, the defense and prosecutor are still at odds over whether evidence aiming toward the defendant fleeing the scene can be shown at trial and if a count charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm should be tried separately from the murder and malicious wounding charges.
While prosecutors want to include evidence Sheffield fled the scene and the area after the incident occurred, defense attorneys say their client did not flee and even turned himself in. The shootings occurred Sept. 2, 2017. Sheffield was not arrested until Oct. 8, 2017, after he turned himself in to the Beckley Police Department.
Evidence for that motion will be presented at a future hearing to Chiles, who will determine if flight evidence can be used at trial.
Additionally, prosecution believes the count charging Sheffield with being a felon in possession of a firearm is intertwined with the other counts — murder and malicious wounding — but defense attorneys say including the charge in the murder trial will prejudice Sheffield because it would involve discussions of previous criminal convictions.
Plymale said holding two trials would be redundant.
“I believe both parts of the crime would be basically the exact same trial twice,” she said, “because we are putting in evidence that a firearm was used to kill somebody. The same firearm was used to shoot somebody in the face. This firearm is not allowed to be possessed.”
Chiles took that motion under advisement and did not make a decision Tuesday.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Plymale agreed to share crime scene photos with the defendant’s attorneys for them to determine if they will object to them being shown at trial because of the gruesome nature of the photos, which they argued would prejudice their client.
Chiles said he would look at any photos the attorneys could not agree on and determine if they can be entered as evidence.
Defense attorneys also requested a change of venue because the investigation’s lead detective, former Huntington police officer Chris Sperry, has been appointed as a Cabell County magistrate since the case began. While the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled Sperry is able to testify to his investigations, there is not allowed to be mention of his new position.
Wible said he had concerns because Sperry’s office is located in the courthouse where the trial is to take place and jurors might see his name on a placard or door, which could make them favor prosecution based on a judge testifying at trial.
Chiles said he would hold off on ruling on the motion until seeing if the sides were able to get a jury selected after questioning them.
The attorneys also sought for the jury to be sequestered because the case obtained national attention when the surviving victim appeared on “The Doctors” TV show, but Chiles denied the request.
Sheffield is housed at Western Regional Jail in Barboursville.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.