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Edwards v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

December 19, 2017



          Gregory R. Sheldon (Bain Sheldon, PLC, on brief), for appellant.

          J. Christian Obenshain, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Humphreys, Beales and Alston Argued at Richmond, Virginia



         Michael Edwards ("appellant") appeals his murder conviction from the Circuit Court of Chesterfield County ("trial court"), where a jury convicted him of killing Leyla Namiranian. On appeal, appellant asserts that the trial court erred by (1) denying his motion to dismiss for improper venue, and (2) finding sufficient evidence to support his conviction. We find that the trial court did not err and affirm.


         Leyla Namiranian ("Namiranian") was last seen alive on April 4, 2012. That evening, she hosted her friend Peter Paoli for dinner. Namiranian was unusually anxious throughout the entire evening, frequently checking her cell phone and looking out the front door of her home. Namiranian and Paoli ate dinner, exchanged gifts, and became intimate with each other. At around 9:45 p.m., a neighbor observed a silver Cadillac driven by a "football-player type" African-American male quickly reverse out of Namiranian's driveway. When Paoli later departed at around 11:00 p.m., Namiranian was alive and well.

         At around 5:15 a.m. on April 5, a neighbor walking his dogs noticed a large, African-American male in Namiranian's front yard. A little more than an hour later, between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m., another neighbor heard two brief, high-pitched noises sounding like screams come from the direction of Namiranian's house. Namiranian never showed up for work on April 5, so a coworker began periodically calling her cell phone to check on her. The coworker testified that on some calls the phone would ring several times, and on other calls, it would only ring once and then transition to voicemail. After several failed attempts to get in contact with Namiranian, the coworker became very concerned and contacted the police.

         When the police arrived at Namiranian's house, nothing in particular indicated that a crime had occurred. The front door of the house was locked, no evidence of any forced entry was observed, and Namiranian's car was parked in the garage. Inside the house, there were no signs of a struggle - nothing was broken or knocked over, and everything seemed in its proper place. An investigation conducted by the police established that Namiranian was leading a completely normal life, and was not planning any trips or moving from the area. Her mailbox contained several envelopes, and Namiranian's two cats were in the house. She had tickets for an upcoming event in Washington, D.C. All of Namiranian's personal items were in various rooms, including her car keys, work bag, glasses, pills, hairbrush, and toothbrush. Her passport, social security card, and citizenship documents were filed away in her home office. However, the police did not find Namiranian's two cell phones.

         Further investigation by the police began yielding interesting details. Namiranian kept two couches in her living room - one had a large, red blanket draped over it, the other did not. However, the couch without a blanket had a rectangular discoloration across the cushions. Additionally, Namiranian's journal was found in her work bag, and it contained several entries about her tumultuous relationship with appellant.

         Namiranian's friend, Kimberly Pugh, testified about the history between Namiranian and appellant. According to Pugh, the relationship began well but unraveled due to appellant's possessive and violent nature. Eventually, Namiranian broke it off. During an altercation in February 2012, appellant choked Namiranian and threw her to the ground. Significantly, Namiranian noted in her journal that she then ended the relationship permanently. Namiranian wrote:

I'm going between fear and anger. I broke up with [appellant] for the fourth and last time yesterday. He lost his mind with jealousy in trying to choke me, but gave up. Thank God. I was never so scared . . . I slept at Kim's because I was afraid he'd come back. Today I called - she called somebody - so he would stop calling me, or thinking we would somehow get back together.

         Appellant had once told Namiranian "one day, I'm gonna get you. Somehow, some way, when you least expect it, I'm gonna get you." Appellant would show up at Namiranian's house without warning, and Namiranian developed a significant fear of him. Neighbors also observed him sitting in his car near her house on another occasion before her disappearance.

         Appellant's phone records revealed that between April 2 and April 4, the days leading up to Namiranian's disappearance, appellant called Namiranian eight different times, none of which Namiranian answered or returned. The records also revealed that appellant did not call Namiranian on April 5, April 6, or any other day after that.

         Appellant exhibited unusual behavior and demeanor on April 5. He reported late to work at his job at Vitran Express in Ashland, Virginia, located off of Interstate 95. Appellant's supervisor testified that he called appellant between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. that day because appellant had not yet arrived, and appellant appeared upset and exhausted when he finally reported at around 2:00 p.m. Additionally, appellant's friend Carla Hargrove had attempted to call him multiple times on the morning of April 5, but received no answer. Appellant called her back later that night, and told her to pretend that she had been with him during the morning of April 5, should anyone ask her.

         The police wanted to speak with appellant about Namiranian, but appellant declined the opportunity. He refused to tell the police where he worked and then refused to meet in person. Appellant finally agreed to talk with the police during the afternoon of April 6. He initially denied being near Namiranian's house on April 4 or April 5. However, once detectives showed him his cell phone records proving he was in that vicinity, he admitted to being around Namiranian's house and leaving his car on her street overnight. A forensic analysis of his cell phone revealed that he had deleted all of his text messages to Namiranian. Forensic technicians recovered the messages, and one message from April 2 read "please don't see him again. Okay. Love you very much. Love you very, very much. I'm sorry, " suggesting appellant's jealousy of Namiranian's current relationship. Appellant was also inconsistent with other details from the previous two days, providing four different times at which he had reported to work on April 5.

         The police searched appellant's vehicle and found a bag in the trunk, containing a red blanket, duct tape, and a bucket. They also found various cleaning supplies. Further analysis of the blanket and bag revealed a hair consistent with Namiranian's hair color, and another hair found in the trunk was consistent with her DNA profile. Police then searched the car with a canine trained to detect human remains, which sniffed the inside of the trunk and then alerted his handler to the presence of human remains. Police also found multiple blood stains in the trunk.

         The police thoroughly reviewed the cell phone records from appellant and Namiranian and concluded that both individuals were near or inside Namiranian's house during the night of April 4 and throughout the morning of April 5. Both phones had pinged off a tower[1] close to Namiranian's house during that time frame. Moving into the early afternoon of April 5, both phones pinged to towers located away from her house. By around 2:00 p.m., both phones pinged off a tower north of appellant's home, adjacent to Interstate 95. Appellant's pinged to the tower near his work around 2:00 p.m., and around the same time ...

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