The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 4, 2014

Trial in neighbor’s murder under way in Fayette County

Matthew Paul Gravely allegedly shot Gary Wayne Smith in back

FAYETTEVILLE — A murder trial began Thursday in Fayette County Circuit Court for a 30-year-old Fayette County man accused of murdering his neighbor in the Mountainair Mobile Home Park in Glen Jean.

Matthew Paul Gravely, of Glen Jean, was arrested at approximately 2 a.m. April 3, 2013, on the property of his single-wide trailer in Glen Jean.

He was charged with the murder of his next-door neighbor, 22-year-old Gary Wayne Smith, who died the same night from a gunshot wound in his back.

Parties from both sides presented their opening statements Thursday morning, during which time Fayette County assistant prosecuting attorney Brian Parsons described the trial as a “story of how people who live together, people who were interconnected by marriage, by kinship” deviated from the normal, and that deviation resulted in the death of a young man.

“How did we get from a situation that’s normal, like we all understand, to a point where this boy is dead?” Parsons posed.

Parsons recounted a series of events for the jury’s consideration, which included that on the evening of April 2, 2013, in the Mountainair trailer park, when Bonnie Adkins, Smith (Adkins’ son), and Smith’s girlfriend, Melissa Underwood, were socializing in Adkins’ trailer.

“They were visited by the defendant’s wife (Ashley Gravely, also Smith’s cousin), and later the defendant,” Parsons said. “They talked. They got along; I think they shared some drinks.”

The socializing escalated to an argument, and Smith and Gravely started wrestling on the kitchen floor, Parsons said.

“Mr. Smith pinned Mr. Gravely down and said words to the effect of, ‘Hey … this is stupid, this is over. I want you to leave,’” Parsons said.

Gravely and his wife then left. Within moments, Adkins, Smith and Underwood heard an argument outside in the yard between Gravely and his wife, Parsons said.

“Ashley is kin to Gary, so he hears this and attempts to go outside to help Ashley,” Parsons told the jury.

“The evidence is going to show that when Gary steps out of his trailer, he takes a step down the first step exiting that trailer. He looks up, and this man (Matthew) is standing across the yard pointing a pistol and fires it at him,” Parson said.

After being shot at, Smith, followed by Adkins and Underwood, goes into the yard with Ashley to fight to get the firearm from Gravely, Parsons said.

Gravely is disarmed and pinned down by Smith, who tells Gravely that the ordeal is stupid and that he’s going back home, Parsons related to the jury.

“The evidence is going to show that a mistake fueled by alcohol, fueled by pride, he takes that same gun, puts it in his hand, he stands up, and when Mr. Smith … has one foot in his trailer, Mr. Gravely shoots him in the back in cold blood,” Parsons told the jury.

The police arrived shortly after, finding Gravely with a gun, Parsons said.

Gravely is claiming that he acted out of self-defense, and Parsons told the jury that it would be their decision to determine whether Gravely’s actions were taken as measures for his own protection.

Smith’s death was not a justifiable killing, Parsons said: “This defendant is guilty of murder.”

In his opening argument, public defender Jim Adkins told the jury that it is very important in this case to pay attention to the forensic evidence.

“There was a scuffle, and we can see it by Mr. Gravely’s arrest photos,” Jim Adkins said, citing bruises and scrapes on Gravely’s body.

Jim Adkins told the jury that Gravely had bought a .45-caliber automatic pistol a couple months prior to the incident and was in the habit of carrying it when he was home.

“He pulled the pistol out; he fired a warning shot into the ground as a deterrent,” Jim Adkins said.

However, the shot didn’t have the desired effect, and Smith charged Gravely to try to get the gun, Jim Adkins said.

“The way this altercation ended, Mr. Gravely pulled back … and fired blindly. It wasn’t his intent to kill. He fired only after he was attacked and only after he was provoked.

“That round that was fired blindly did strike Mr. Smith in the back,” Jim Adkins said.

- - -

Smith’s mother, Bonnie Adkins, was called to the stand as the prosecution’s first witness.

Adkins said she, Smith and Underwood were occupying the trailer when Ashley, who is also Adkins’ cousin, called to ask if she could come over.

Adkins stated that Ashley brought a can of malt liquor with her, and “she was pretty buzzed.”

Adkins said she, Melissa and Gary had also been drinking, but no one “was falling down drunk.”

“Matt came in. He sat down; we started talking and laughing,” Adkins said, adding that Matthew was also drinking beer.

“We was in there for about half-hour, two hours, something like that,” Adkins said.

The conversation between Gary and Matthew somehow began to escalate, and Adkins said Matthew and her son began to wrestle on the floor.

They separated and Smith and Underwood went into the bedroom, Adkins said.

“Matt went to the door, (and) kept hollering at Lil’ Gary. He said, ‘That’s all right, Gary. I’ve got something for you,’” Adkins testified, adding that Matthew then left and walked toward his home.

Shortly after, Adkins said Smith went to the door, at which time he saw Gravely with a gun.

“Gary said, ‘Oh, you gonna shoot me,” Adkins said, adding that she looked out the door and saw Matthew with a gun.

The situation then again escalated outside, and Adkins said she heard a shot fired and both Smith and Underwood jumped off the trailer’s front steps.

Adkins said the group then tried to take the gun from Gravely, which resulted in a scramble. She went to call the police, but couldn’t get the right numbers dialed into the phone.

“I could hear Lil’ Gary saying, ‘Matt, quit. I’m going home. Quit.’” Before I even got to hit 911, Gary’s already going to step up the steps, and that’s when Matt … pointed the gun and shot him in the back.”

She called 911 and rushed to Smith’s aid with Underwood, Adkins said.

“Missy (Underwood) checked his pulse and said ‘Ain’t no pulse, Mom,’” Adkins said.

She said the two rolled him over and the only thing Adkins could see were Smith’s eyes wide open.

- - -

The prosecution then called a series of witnesses who related the forensic evidence.

West Virginia’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Allen Mock, testified on behalf of the state as an expert witness in forensic pathology.

Mock used a mannequin to illustrate the entry and exit wounds of the bullet that killed Smith.

Mock said because no searing, sooting or stippling resulting from gunshot powder was present on Smith’s body, the gunshot wound indicated that the bullet was fired from distant range.

He also confirmed that the wound was consistent with a large-caliber weapon such as the .45-caliber automatic pistol Gravely owned.

Expert witness Phillip Cochran, a firearm and toolmark examiner for the West Virginia State Police, was also called to the witness stand.

Cochran testified that he had performed tests revealing the two shell casings retrieved from the scene had been expelled from the firearm shot by Gravely on that April night.

He also stated that, while he had not performed tests on the particular firearm in question, he could speak from experience that the large-ammunition gun used by Gravely would likely stop depositing gunpowder particles outside of a 4- to 5-feet distance, so it was reasonable to infer that the gun was shot farther than 5 feet away.

Last to testify Thursday was the crime’s investigating officer, Detective Rod Perdue of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office.

Perdue gave the jury a detailed description of the crime scene and general layout of the two neighboring trailers. He stated that he found two spent shell casings and one unfired round at the scene.

He confirmed to the jury that the scene showed signs of a struggle, as the trailer’s underpinning had been knocked loose. He also found a ball cap and two stray shoes.

Perdue discussed evidence of a recent chunk being knocked from one of the cinder blocks comprising the trailer’s set of front stairs.

He said he believes the gash in the cinder block resulted from Gravely’s first shot at Smith, when Smith was allegedly standing on the stairs.

However, the defense probed Perdue on whether he found a bullet that could corroborate that assertion, to which Perdue replied that he had not.

The prosecution then displayed a series of photos Perdue had taken of the stairs and doorway of the trailer. The pictures showed blood splatter against the trailer’s exterior siding, door kick plate and cinder block stairs.

“That’s where Mr. Smith was when he was shot,” Perdue said.

Perdue stated that he did not feel unjustified in charging Gravely with murder on that night.

The trial will continue before Judge Paul Blake at 8:30 a.m. today.

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