The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 5, 2014

Gravely found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in shooting

— The jury took less than two hours Friday to reach the verdict that 30-year-old Matthew Paul Gravely, of Glen Jean, was guilty of voluntary manslaughter in connection to the shooting of his neighbor, 22-year-old Gary Wayne Smith, on April 3, 2013.

Over the past two days, a jury of seven women and five men heard witness testimony and viewed evidence relating to Gravely shooting Smith in the front yard of his residence in the Fayette County Mountainair Mobile Home Park.

More than neighbors, Gravely and Smith were also related by marriage, as Gravely was married to Smith’s cousin, Ashley.

After considering the evidence and witness testimony presented by Fayette County assistant prosecuting attorney Brian Parsons and public defenders Elizabeth Campbell and Jim Adkins, the jury was presented with five possible verdicts: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and not guilty.

The jury did not find Gravely guilty of murder, as the prosecution was seeking, but rather returned with the decision of voluntary manslaughter.

According to the legal definition, voluntary manslaughter differs from first-degree murder in that it involves neither premeditation nor malice.

During the past two days, the prosecution presented evidence to the jury, including the Hi-Point .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol that Gravely used to shoot Smith in the back, the laser sight that Gravely had attached to the weapon, crime scene photos showing blood splatter and shell casings, and photos taken of Gravely after he was taken into police custody.

The prosecution called eight witnesses: Smith’s mother, Bonnie Adkins, and his girlfriend, Melissa Underwood, who were present on the night of the killing; two Fayette County sheriff’s deputies who responded to the scene; two medical examiners; a firearm and toolmark examiner; and Detective Rod Perdue of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office.

Defense attorney Elizabeth Campbell called four witnesses: Gravely; his wife, Ashley Gravely; Ashley and Smith’s aunt, Carolyn Tincher; and Detective Rod Perdue of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the evidence presented, Adkins and her son, Smith, and Smith’s girlfriend, Underwood, were drinking and socializing in Adkins’ trailer in the Mountainair trailer park on the evening of April 2, 2013.

Ashley Gravely (Adkins’ niece and Smith’s cousin) joined the three while her husband, Matthew Gravely, was finishing his shift at the Fayetteville Walmart.

After getting home from work, Gravely drove Smith to a gas station nearby and the two bought beer. Gravely did not immediately go over to Adkins’ trailer once they got back from the store, but later joined the group to socialize.

According to testimony, the atmosphere was friendly at first, but the conversation between Gravely and Smith somehow became hostile, and the two began to wrestle on the floor in the kitchen.

The men separated briefly and Gravely left the trailer, but the confrontation later resumed in the yard outside the trailer after a short time.

Witness testimony from Adkins, Underwood and Ashley Gravely all shared that when Smith began to exit the trailer’s doorway and follow Gravely into the yard, Gravely shot at Smith in the doorway, and Smith then went after Gravely to try to get the gun from him.

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Conflicting witness stories paint a muddled picture of the events leading to Gravely shooting Smith.

Gravely and wife Ashley claimed that Smith jumped on Gravely’s back and put him in a prolonged choke hold to the point that Gravely almost passed out.

Underwood, however, stated that Smith was wrestling with Gravely on the ground in an effort to get the gun from him, but did not have him in a chokehold.

Adkins and Underwood both testified that Smith had ceased wrestling with Gravely and was walking up the stairs to his trailer when Gravely shot him.

Even though Smith had walked away, Ashley Gravely testified that Smith was “a violent person when he was intoxicated” and “knew (he) wasn’t going to stop.”

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Gravely and his defense told the jury that Gravely’s actions were taken in self-defense.

Matthew Gravely testified that Smith won control of the gun briefly while they were fighting and attempted to shoot Gravely with it, but the gun either misfired or was jammed.

When Gravely was able to get away from Smith, he said that he then was scared for his life. He told the jury that he closed his eyes and shot his gun blindly.

The shot entered Smith’s back, punctured both lungs and his heart, and exited his chest.

West Virginia’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Allen Mock, told the jury Thursday that an injury of that magnitude would kill a human being within “seconds to minutes.”

During the cross examination, Parsons asked Gravely if he killed a man.

“Unfortunately, yes,” he replied.

Gravely testified: “If the gun would not have been jammed, I would have been shot.”

Parsons probed Gravely on his testimony stating that he had shot his gun with his eyes closed.

“Yes, I made a mistake,” Gravely said.

---

Parsons passionately addressed the jury during closing arguments, stating that Smith may have had a history of drinking and fighting, but he was trying to turn his life around during the months before his death.

“We all get the chance to change. We all get the chance to mature. Gary Smith doesn’t get that chance,” Parsons told the jury.

Parsons said there was no credible evidence to back up that Smith was being violent that night. “You can’t shoot a man because he hit you a couple times in a fist fight. That’s not justification to take a man’s life.

“I don’t want to live in a country where I can come in and say, ‘I was scared, and he’s a bad guy, so we got in a fight and I killed him.’ This man shouldn’t get to decide who lives and dies.”

Campbell called Smith’s death “a shame” in her closing argument.

She told the jury that it was a shame that Smith “viciously attacked” Gravely, and a shame that Gravely “had to kill Gary Smith to save his own life.”

“Gary Smith had him in a chokehold. He didn’t think he was going to be able to get away, and that’s why he did what he did.

“Was it intentional? No. Was it something that was planned? No. It was something that just happened, and that’s a shame,” she said.

Gravely was remanded to Southern Regional Jail upon the jury’s delivery of the verdict. His sentencing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. May 30.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

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