THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF PORTSMOUTH Joel P. Crowe,
McMillan Powers, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.
C. Campbell, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring,
Attorney General; David M. Uberman, Assistant Attorney
General, on brief), for appellee.
Present: Judges Humphreys, Malveaux and Senior Judge Frank
Argued at Hampton, Virginia
J. HUMPHREYS, JUDGE.
December 7, 2017, a grand jury for the Circuit Court of the
City of Portsmouth ("circuit court") indicted
appellant Stanlee Sebastian Jones ("Jones") for (1)
first-degree murder, in violation of Code § 18.2-32; (2)
use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, in violation
of Code § 18.2-53.1; and (3) possession of a firearm
after a violent felony conviction, in violation of Code
§ 18.2-308.2. Following a jury trial, on February 6,
2018, Jones was found guilty of first-degree murder and use
of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
appeal, Jones assigns the following five errors and
II. The trial court erred when, after reviewing a video of
the incident of August 18, 2018, it ruled that the victim,
Richardson, did not commit an "overt act"
sufficient to justify Defendant's claim of self-defense.
a. The trial court erred in usurping the jury's
fact-finding function by determining that there was no overt
act by the victim, despite Defendant's proffered
testimony that the victim reached to his waistband.
b. The trial court erred in precluding Defendant from
testifying as to the actions of the victim on the day of the
III. The trial court erred in limiting Defendant's
constitutional right to present a comprehensive defense on
his own behalf.
a. The trial court erred in refusing to allow the jury to
hear Defendant's properly proffered evidence of
Defendant's state of mind on August 18, 2017.
b. The trial court erred in refusing to allow the jury to
hear additional evidence supporting Defendant's theory of
self-defense and his state of mind on August 18, 2017.
IV. The trial court erred in ruling that Richardson's
statements were hearsay and were inadmissible because there
was no exception to the rule against hearsay that would
permit their admission.
V. The trial court erred in precluding defense counsel from
arguing evidence of record during closing argument because
during cross examination the Commonwealth elicited a response
regarding the defendant's claim of self-defense that the
Court did not strike from the evidence or provide a limiting
instruction to the jury, but admonished defense counsel from
arguing the evidence in closing argument.
VI. The trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury
a. The trial court erred in failing to give the jury an
instruction regarding self-defense.
b. The trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury as
to the lesser included offense of manslaughter.
August 18, 2017, Jones accompanied his girlfriend, Tayshana
Jones ("Tayshana") to her home after she picked him
up from work. Later, Jones drove Tayshana's Volkswagen to
the Essex Food Store in Portsmouth, accompanied by Tayshana
and her two children. He parked directly in front of the
store, got out of the car, "stepped out some," and
returned to the car. Jones retrieved a gun from underneath
the seat of the car. Then, he pointed the gun at a man
sitting on the railing in front of the store and shot the gun
repeatedly. As the victim retreated, Jones chased him down
the street a short distance where the victim collapsed. The
victim, later identified as Aljoro Curtis Richardson
("Richardson"), died of a gunshot wound to the
torso. The entire homicide was quite clearly captured by two
of the store's surveillance cameras, from two different
angles. Upon examination of the scene, a forensic technician
did not find any weapons in Richardson's clothing or on
his person. After police barricades started to be removed, a
pocketknife was found approximately four feet from
Richardson's left foot.
trial, the Commonwealth filed a motion in limine to
preclude a plea of self-defense and the admission of any
character evidence of Richardson. Specifically, the
Commonwealth sought to prohibit defense counsel from
referring to "any prior aggressive conduct" by the
victim or the victim's "character for violence"
during opening statement. The Commonwealth also moved to
prohibit introduction of such evidence at any time during
trial or closing argument unless a proper foundation for
self-defense was laid. At the same time, the Commonwealth
filed a motion to "preclude presentation of self-serving
hearsay by the defendant during the Commonwealth's
January 30, 2018, the circuit court conducted a hearing on
the Commonwealth's motions. Jones related his intention
not to make arguments about his perceived fear during opening
statement. In response to the Commonwealth's motion to
preclude mention of self-defense throughout the entire case,
the circuit court stated that it would "likely not"
preclude any mention of self-defense. In response, the
Commonwealth asked that the circuit court preclude any
mention of "the victim's prior history, prior
criminal history, any prior bad acts or . . . prior