Petition for a Writ of Actual Innocence
Judges O'Brien, Russell, and Senior Judge Clements
Lamont Knight, also known as Suge Knight, petitions this
Court for a Writ of Actual Innocence pursuant to Chapter 19.3
of Title 19.2 of the Code of Virginia. A jury convicted
Knight of first-degree murder, robbery, and two counts of
using a firearm in the commission of a felony in the Circuit
Court of the City of Norfolk. By final order of January 28,
2004, the trial court sentenced Knight to life imprisonment
plus fifteen years, consistent with the jury's verdict.
contends that he is innocent of the offenses and is entitled
to relief based upon the purported recantations of his
accomplices and two informants. Knight also argues that
former Norfolk Police Detective Robert Glenn Ford used
"unscrupulous tactics" to secure his convictions.
He notes that Ford was convicted in federal court of bribery.
Knight contends that he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing
on the proffered recantations following the Supreme Court of
Virginia's decision in Dennis v. Commonwealth,
297 Va. 104 (2019). The Attorney General has moved to dismiss
11:12 p.m. on August 16, 2002, Norfolk Police Officer
Whiteside and his partner responded to a call of "shots
fired" at 1539 Palmetto Street in Norfolk; the officers
arrived at 11:18 p.m. Officer Whiteside saw the victim, later
identified as Troy Jordan, lying on the driveway of 1533
Palmetto Street with a window blind wrapped around his feet.
Jordan had an obvious gunshot wound to his head. Officer
Whiteside secured the entire perimeter. He noticed that the
window of the rear door of the duplex near Jordan's body
was "completely broken out," with curtains lying
there and glass on the porch.
rescue squad arrived almost immediately behind the officers.
Jordan was lying in the driveway in the fetal position. There
was a large pool of blood beneath Jordan's head; however,
he had respirations and a pulse. Paramedics transported
Jordan to the hospital, but he died from his injuries. The
medical examiner testified that Jordan died from a gunshot
wound to the back of the head and that there "was no
evidence of close range fire on the gunshot wound." The
direction of fire was "from back to front." Jordan
also had sustained multiple blunt force injuries of his head,
torso, and legs. The medical examiner recovered a lead bullet
core fragment and a bullet jacket from Jordan's head.
Hayes pleaded guilty to Jordan's murder and use of a
firearm in the commission of murder. Hayes testified against
Knight, both at Knight's preliminary hearing and at
trial. According to Hayes, on August 16, 2002, he
wanted to buy marijuana. Hayes saw Knight in Norfolk's
First View neighborhood. Hayes, who had dated Knight's
sister, knew Knight as "Ses." Knight got into
Hayes's car and directed him to drive to a house where
Knight talked with a woman named "Sheena." Hayes
overheard Knight and Sheena talking about a place where there
was a lot of marijuana. Knight then directed Hayes to drive
to George "Geo" McAllister's house, where
McAllister entered Hayes's car. As Hayes drove, Knight
and McAllister talked about robbing the place. Hayes saw that
they had firearms, which Hayes described as "a .9 and a
.40." At McAllister's direction, Hayes drove to a
location beside some railroad tracks. Knight and Hayes exited
the car and walked along the railroad tracks to the side of
some apartments. Knight gave Hayes "a .9 mm and he
took the .40." Knight told Hayes to knock on the door of
1539B Palmetto Street; Hayes did not know the occupants of
the apartment. When Jordan opened the door, Hayes asked him
where "the weed" was, and Jordan closed the door on
him. Knight instructed Hayes to knock again.
as Jordan opened the door, Knight "bum rushed"
Hayes into the residence and ordered Jordan to the floor.
Knight "stomped" Jordan's head and kicked his
leg, demanding to know where the marijuana was. Jordan told
Knight the marijuana was in a bag, which Hayes saw on the
floor. As Hayes looked in the bag, which had marijuana,
Jordan broke free. Jordan ran to the back of the apartment
and jumped through the window of the back door. Knight chased
Jordan and shot at him through the window. Hayes grabbed the
bag and bolted out the front door, turned left, and ran along
the side of the building. Although Hayes saw some people as
he fled, he "just ran" back to his car. As he ran
along the railroad tracks, Hayes heard more gunshots. Hayes
saw Knight a few minutes later at the car with a shoebox full
of marijuana. Knight told Hayes that he had shot Jordan in
the back of the head.
drove them away from the scene. Knight told Hayes not to
worry because "his people would cover for him as an
alibi." They drove to Pleasant Park, and Knight gave
Hayes and McAllister some marijuana. McAllister remained in
Pleasant Park, and Knight drove back to First View, where
Hayes left him. Hayes went home but decided that he needed a
drink; he went to a club called "Night Moves." When
Hayes arrived at the club, Knight and Sheena were there.
Doxey's cousins were visiting with him on August 16,
2002, at his residence at 1543B Palmetto Street, which was
directly across from 1539B Palmetto Street. Palmetto Street,
Doxey explained, is a dead-end and railroad tracks run behind
the duplex apartment buildings. Doxey and his cousins had
been watching a football game but when they heard what they
thought was an argument outside, his cousins decided to
leave. As they walked to the car, Doxey heard three gunshots
from the area of 1539 Palmetto Street. When they turned
around to retreat to Doxey's house, he heard the loud
"tisssh" of breaking glass. Doxey held his head
down to protect it but looked back under his arm and saw a
man about six feet tall "leaving out" of 1539B
Palmetto. The man had a large-caliber chrome weapon, possibly
a .9mm, in his right hand and a bag under his left shoulder.
The man jumped down the steps, ran between the two buildings,
and disappeared into the darkness; he did not fire any shots.
and his cousins reentered his home and as they walked toward
his bathroom for safety, Doxey heard more gunshots. Doxey
called 911; he reported shots fired and gave the address.
Doxey felt that they waited a long time for the police to
arrive. When Doxey and his cousins went back outside, Doxey
saw a body in the street with a pool of blood around the
head. Doxey and his cousins returned to his house, and he
called 911 again. Doxey's cousins ultimately left before
the police arrived. Doxey remained and spoke with Norfolk
police officers that night. At Knight's trial, Doxey said
that 1539B Palmetto had a reputation in the neighborhood for
dope sales. The "primary" person who lived at 1539B
was a female.
same night, Augusta Coleman was visiting his girlfriend and
their daughter at 1539A Palmetto Street. Coleman was familiar
with Sheena and Cary "Little J" Darden, who lived
at 1539B Palmetto. Coleman's girlfriend had been outside
but she came into the apartment and said that she thought the
apartment next door, 1539B Palmetto, "was getting
jacked." Coleman heard a crash and several gunshots. The
others in the apartment fled. Coleman remained, however,
because his daughter was asleep. He went to the back bedroom
and picked up the child but stayed inside because he could
still hear shots. As he stood trying to decide whether to
stay or go, the door "came open" and a man in the
doorway pointed a gun at him. Coleman identified Knight as
the person in the doorway with the gun. Coleman
announced, "I'm just here with the baby."
Knight stood there for a second, then turned and walked away.
Coleman eventually fled with the child.
Investigators Pederson and Henderson responded to the scene.
Pederson recovered a bullet fragment from a drainpipe, which
was located at the corner of 1533 Palmetto Street, a location
consistent with having been fired from the rear of 1539B
Palmetto. Pederson also found two bags of marijuana in the
kitchen on a high chair. A bullet was lodged in the wall of
the living room in 1539A Palmetto. Henderson later responded
to a second location and collected one bullet and two bullet
fragments from Coleman's car, which had two bullet holes
in the windshield. Henderson also collected a gun-shot
residue test on Coleman, which was negative. Investigator
Martin responded to 1539B Palmetto on August 17, 2002, and
collected three .40 caliber cartridge casings. An expert from
the Department of Forensic Science testified that the bullet
fragments recovered from Coleman's car and the bullet
jacket recovered from Jordan's head had been fired from
the same gun barrel. The expert testified that the three .40
caliber casings Martin had found had been fired from the same
gun. The police never found the firearm used to kill Jordan.
Coles, a convicted felon, met Knight in the Hampton Roads
Regional Jail in March 2003. Coles was also from Norfolk, and
he and Knight knew people in common. Knight told Coles that
"he shot the dude" in the back of the head from a
distance and gestured to show how he had shot the victim.
Knight told Coles that his cousins were going to provide an
alibi by saying he was at a club on the night of the murder.
Coles contacted the police because of "the manner in
which" Knight recounted the killing. Knight also made
incriminating statements to another inmate from the Hampton
Roads Regional Jail, Anthony Summerville, who was also a
convicted felon. While Summerville was helping him find books
in the jail library, Knight told Summerville that he was
charged with murder. Summerville testified that Knight stated
he pulled a gun on the victim during a "sting" and
the victim "bucked," which Summerville understood
to mean that during a robbery the victim attempted to run and
Knight shot him. Knight stated something about a .40 caliber
gun and gestured to the back of his head to indicate where
the victim had been shot. After the murder, Knight and his
"homeboy" went to "Night Moves."
forecast by Coles, Knight presented an alibi at trial.
Knight's friend Selena Harris testified that she picked
up Knight from Golden Corral, where he worked, at around 9:00
p.m. on August 16, 2002, because a group of friends had
planned to go to "Night Moves" club to celebrate
Robert Jones's birthday. Harris took Knight to his
apartment, where he changed and then he, Harris, and
"some other people" went to "Night
Moves," arriving around 10:30 p.m.
rode to the club with Knight's girlfriend, Lori Ann
"Candy" Carter, Felicia Hall, and Knight's
sister, Julie Ann Gibbs. They arrived at the club between
10:00 and 10:15 p.m. Gibbs, however, forgot her ID, so could
not get into the club. Carter took Gibbs home, and Gibbs saw
Knight at the house getting ready to go to the club when she
arrived. Gibbs explained to Knight that she was
unable to get into the club and offered to stay home with the
children. Knight and Harris arrived at the club about ten to
fifteen minutes after Jones, Carter, and Hall. The
party-goers remained at the club until it closed sometime
between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. According to Jones and Carter,
Knight stayed at the club "the whole time."
recalled that Knight's hand was injured at the time and
he had a sling; Harris was not sure which hand. Hall could
not recall if Knight was wearing the sling on August 16,
2002, because "he could take if off to let his arm
rest." Hall explained that Knight had injured his hand
when he fell off a bike and that he had to have stitches in
his hand; she did not recall the dates of the injuries.
Carter stated that Knight had a sling on his arm for about
two weeks because he fell off his bike; he sustained another
injury to his right hand shortly after August 16, 2002.
Carter did not remember how Knight sustained the injury that
employment records from Golden Corral showed that although
Knight was scheduled to work on August 16, 2002, he never
clocked in. Knight's supervisor recalled a time when
Knight arrived for work but was sent home because he was
wearing a sling. The supervisor could not recall the date
that Knight was sent home; however, the general manager
testified that if he had followed procedure and arrived for
work, he should have "swiped in." Knight's
medical records showed that he sprained his right hand on
August 2, 2002. He was given a sling and instructed to use it
for four to five days. Knight appeared in the emergency room
again on August 18, 2002, with a laceration to the back of
his right hand along the knuckles. Knight received stitches
and a splint for his hand.
also presented testimony from two inmates who claimed they
had spoken with Hayes in the Norfolk jail. Hayes told William
Scott that the police "had him and his stick man,"
Knight-whom Hayes named-for murder. Scott testified that
Hayes told him that he "ain't had nothing to do with
it, but the homicide detective-he said, I ain't trying to
go to prison. So the homicide detective told [Hayes] to work
with them." According to Scott, Hayes declared that
neither he nor Knight had anything to do with the murder.
Scott did not know that Hayes had pleaded guilty to
first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of
murder. Asani Gumbs testified that he knew Knight and Hayes;
he said that he had discussed the crime on Palmetto Street
with Hayes while in the Norfolk jail. When Gumbs asked Hayes
"how he got mixed up in whatever," Hayes said
"he didn't know why it happened." Hayes told
Gumbs that, although he had acted alone in the murder, he
would do "whatever it takes" because he could not
"do all the time by himself." Gumbs also did not
know that Hayes had pleaded guilty, or the circumstances of
his surrender to the police and subsequent confession.
for Writ of Actual Innocence
claim of innocence rests on the purported recantations of
Hayes and Coles; a "declaration" from McAllister;
and his proffer that Summerville also has
"recanted" his trial testimony but declined to
provide a statement. Knight also relies on Detective
Ford's federal convictions in pressing his claim of
innocence. The fulcrum of Knight's argument is that
without the testimony of Hayes, Coles, and Summerville, and
knowing of Ford's "unscrupulous tactics," no
reasonable juror would convict him considering the lack of
physical evidence connecting him to the offense.
§ 19.2-327.10 confers original jurisdiction upon this
Court to consider a petition for a writ of actual innocence
based on non-biological evidence." Phillips v.
Commonwealth, 69 Va.App. 555, 562 (2018) (quoting
Bush v. Commonwealth, 68 Va.App. 797, 803 (2018)).
To be entitled to a non-biological writ of actual innocence,
the petitioner must present evidence that was previously
unknown or unavailable to him, and that could not have been
discovered in the exercise of diligence before his conviction
became final under Rule1:1(a). Code § 19.2-327.11(A)(iv)
and (vi); Bush, 68 Va.App. at 804; In re
Neal, 44 Va.App. 89, 90 (2004). In addition, the
evidence upon which the petitioner relies must be
"material and, when considered with all of the other
evidence in the current record, will prove that no rational
trier of fact would have found proof of guilt or delinquency
beyond a reasonable doubt." Code §
19.2-327.11(A)(vii); Bush, 68 Va.App. at 805-06.
Newly-discovered evidence that is "merely cumulative,
corroborative or collateral" is insufficient. Code
§ 19.2-327.11(A)(viii); Bush, 68 Va.App. at
petitioner can only obtain a writ of actual innocence if we
find by "clear and convincing evidence" that he has
proven all of the allegations required under Code §
19.2-327.11(A)(iv) through (viii). Code § 19.2-327.13;
In re Brown, 295 Va. 202, 221 (2018) (evaluating
claim for a biological writ of actual innocence).
"'[C]lear and convincing evidence' must be
convincing enough to render the assertion to be proved
'highly probable or reasonably
certain.'" Id. at 228 (quoting
Black's Law Dictionary 674 (10th ed. 2014)). The
clear and convincing standard "cannot be met with
evidence that leaves 'competing inferences "equally
probable."'" Id. at 227 (quoting
Edmonds v. Edmonds, 290 Va. 10, 22 (2015)). In
evaluating a claim of actual innocence, this Court considers
all of the factual information in its totality and tests it
under the clear-and-convincing standard. Phillips,
69 Va.App. at 563-64; In re Brown, 295 Va. at 229.
Thus, this Court must "make a probabilistic
determination about what reasonable, properly instructed