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Teen stands trial for Clarksville murder

SoVaNow.com / April 07, 2021

The trial of Damian Ashworth, the young man charged with the murder of 20-year-old Anthony Raekwon Roberts of Clarksville, opened Monday in Mecklenburg County Circuit Court with Circuit Judge S. Anderson Nelson presiding in the jury proceeding.

Ashworth, who was 17 at the time of the alleged murder, is charged with first and second degree murder, non-capital murder, attempted capital murder, conspiracy to commit capital murder, three counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, first offense, two counts of use of a firearm the commission of a felony, second offense, shooting a firearm from a vehicle, shooting into an occupied building, malicious assault, shooting in a public place, malicious wounding, conspiracy to commit malicious shooting and shooting in the commission of a felony.

The charges are tied to the shooting death of Roberts that took place in Clarksville near the corner of Market Street and Seventh Avenue on the afternoon of July 17, 2019.

If convicted on all counts, the 19-year-old defendant faces up to 300 years in prison as well as fines and court costs.

Ashworth allegedly shot Roberts four times, once in the face, twice in the chest and once in the palm of his left hand while Roberts was walking on 7th Street near the home he shared with his mother, Sheila Smith and grandmother Eloise Bullock.

Ashworth and his girlfriend and accused co-conspirator Hayleigh Hylton then allegedly drove off, leaving Robert’s bleeding on the side of the road.

Shortly after being transported to Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital in South Boston, Roberts died of his injuries. An autopsy performed by the medical examiner’s office in Richmond listed the cause of death as gunshots to the torso consistent with homicide.

Hylton is not currently on trial. She is charged with a single count of accessory after the fact to second degree murder, a Class 6 felony that carries a prison sentence of one to five years if she is convicted. Her next court date is set for May 17.

The car involved in the killing, a 2008 Ford Focus, belonged to Hylton and she was driving with Ashworth as her passenger at the time of the incident.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Nash and deputy prosecutor Josh Hatchell and Ashworth’s defense lawyer, W. Barry Montgomery, spent much of the first day of the trial picking jurors to hear the case, which are expected to take five days for the prosecution and defense to present. The attorneys culled the nearly 40-person jury pool down to 13 jurors — seven men and six women. Only three of the 13 jurors — one was chosen as an alternate — are Black.

Ashworth is White and his victim was Black, though there has been no suggestion that the killing was racially motivated. Hylton, charged as an accessory to the crime, is also White.

Following jury selection, the balance of Monday’s time in court was spent on opening statements and testimony from a neighbor, Tim Fields, and a family friend, O’Brien Barksdale, who were the first two people to find Roberts after he had been shot. Also testifying on Monday were Roberts’ mother Sheila Smith, sister Tyiesha Roberts and grandmother Eloise Bullock, who described Roberts’ last moments before his fateful encounter with Ashworth and Hylton.

According to the three women, Roberts had been playing with his nieces before heading out the door, telling them he’d be back soon.

Nash, in his opening statement to the jury, described a cold-blooded killing — one where he said Ashworth and Hylton cruised their victim’s neighborhood several times the day of the shooting, even texting a picture of the stop sign near Roberts’ house to a third person as proof of their location.

Later, Nash said Ashworth shared news of the shooting in phone conversations with at least two other persons, Juan Tucker Jr. and John Smith. He even went so far as getting a teardrop tattooed on his face to mark the killing, according to Nash.

A teardrop tattoo, Nash said, is a gang symbol signifying that the wearer has taken a life. The teardrop was later redrawn into a heart, according to Nash.

Nash said the evidence would show that Roberts was unarmed and walking alone on Seventh Street when Ashworth shot him four times with a 9 mm Ruger pistol.

Clarksville Police Officer Brent Inscore was the first member of law enforcement to arrive at the scene of the shooting. Nash said he expedited a rescue effort for Roberts since he was still alive at the time. Inscore also started to secure the crime scene which by then was “chaotic,” he said.

Back-up from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office soon arrived and evidence, including two spent 9 mm shell casings, were collected after being found near Roberts’ body.

Nash said that same day, both a person and vehicle of interest were developed in the investigation. A search of the house where Ashworth lived on Tuck Lane turned up Hylton’s car with what appeared to be blood stains on the passenger side door, a 9 mm Ruger pistol tossed in the woods, a towel containing blood smears, a 9 mm magazine, a 9 mm box bearing a serial number that matched that of the gun found in the woods, and clothing spattered with what appeared to be blood stashed in the back of a closet.

DNA samples taken from Ashworth, Hylton and Roberts, as well from the clothing retrieved from Ashworth’s house, forensic evidence unlocked from Hylton’s cell phone and the gun found in the woods, connect Ashworth and Hylton to the shooting of Roberts, according to Nash.

Ashworth turned himself into police the same day as the shooting, although according to Nash, he’d changed clothes except for his shoes.

As for a motive, Nash told jurors that Ashworth claimed he was being called “soft” and other derogatory names by Roberts, so he “pulled up on him and did what I had to do.”

Montgomery gave a short opening statement. He hinted briefly at the defense he’ll present, suggesting that the killing of Roberts was an act of self-defense and that Ashworth was the initial victim. He described Ashworth and Hylton as two innocent kids out for a joy ride and pizza before heading to a movie.

He said the pair were simply driving around before picking up a pizza at the Papa John’s on Highway 15 South in Clarksville when Roberts “attacked” their vehicle and “tore out the window” on the passenger side.

“Roberts went after Damian,” according to Montgomery, who added that the two were not “close acquaintances.”

Montgomery described the shooting as something “that happened” because Ashworth was being attacked. “It took less than a minute.”

Before ending his remarks, Montgomery sought assurances from the jurors that they would “wait to hear the evidence” before deciding his client’s fate.

Jurors spent day two of the trial listening to the testimony of members of law enforcement who investigated and gathered evidence being used by the prosecution.

Among those taking the stand were Clarksville Police Officer Andy Elliott, who along with Inscore secured the clothing Ashworth is said to have worn at the time of the shooting, as well as the 9 mm box bearing a serial number that matched that of the gun found in the woods, and a 9 mm magazine.

Lead Investigator Mark Claiborne and Investigators Steve Jones and Andy Mosley of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office described the process they used to collect and preserve additional evidence, including blood samples. MCSO Lt. Marlon Alexander and Jones identified photos taken of the crime scene and of collected evidence.

It was the testimony of assistant chief medical examiner Dr. Jennifer Bowers that offered jurors a clearer understanding of what happened to Roberts when he was shot. Using photos to illustrate her testimony, she told jurors how the bullets entered Roberts’ body and why the two shots to his chest area were fatal.

Throughout the day, Montgomery offered almost no pushback to either the evidence or testimony presented by prosecution witnesses, aside from an occasional objection to a photo or two or the audio captured on Inscore’s body cam at the scene of the shooting.

Expert firearms examiner James Bullock confirmed that the gun found in the woods near Ashworth’s home on Tuck Lane was the one that fired the fatal shots that killed Roberts. Forensic science expert Kristin Van Itallie said that an analysis done on a white shirt removed from Ashworth’s home likely contained blood spatters belonging to Roberts.

She acknowledged on cross examination that other spatters could be attributed to Ashworth.

Jurors also heard from Nicole Oden, a digital forensic scientist with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science in Richmond who unlocked and extracted both user and systems data from two cell phones found on Roberts and one taken from Hylton. Information from these phones were used to track the whereabouts of the parties on July 17, 2019.

Montgomery is expected to call two witnesses, Ashworth’s mother Jessica Sousa and Hylton, a 2019 Park View High School graduate who was 20 years old at the time of the fatal shooting. As the prosecution has not rested, it is not known when they will appear.

The trial will pick up again Wednesday morning. While jurors are released each evening, Nelson admonished them to avoid reading news or independently researching anything they heard during testimony.


(Editor's note: A paragraph in this article has been corrected from the original, regarding the identities of two people that prosecutors say took part in phone calls with Damian Ashworth following the death of Anthony Raekwon Roberts of Clarksville. They were Juan Tucker, Jr. and John Smith. The original version incorrectly identified one of the people involved as Michael Small. A correction will appear in the April 13 print edition of The Mecklenburg Sun.)

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Comments

1. Slander
2. Defamation of character
Do you people do any fact checking ?
You write like you were in the courtroom, except you aren’t right about hardly one thing in this article.
Hayleigh is not even 20 now. Smh this is disheartening and obviously 1-sided.

Comments

Where does a 17-year-old get a 9mm? And do you often need a 9mm while out on a joyride? Picking up a pizza and going to a movie? In Clarksville, of all places? No hate, these are all legitimate questions I have.

Comments

It’s not slander if it’s true and it’s also probably not smart as the defendants mother to comment on an ongoing investigation of your child. Yes I’m taking to you Jessica. Your comment is a little dumb.

Comments

These 2 are guilty AF... the defense is " he called me soft, so I did what i had to do" 1st dude is mad soft - words made him murda someone with a gun. Couldnt even do it with his hands or old school style with a bat. Got a teardrop to celebrate the homocide - dude is a clown. I got money the girl had issue with the victim and manipulated the soft kid to do the shooting.

Comments

This murder was premeditated an he should be charged as an adult.He should get the maximum sentence. The girl should have been charged with accessory to murder she knew what he was going to do. But we live in mecklenburg county. If it was a black man kill a white they would throw the book at him. Justice should be the same for every one. I am just sitting back waiting to see what going to happen

Comments

^^ james you are absolutley correct MecKKKlenburg KKKounty


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