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Capital murder charge tossed out against Louisa man who had objected to courtroom portrait of Lee

In an unusual ruling after three days of trial proceedings, a Louisa County Circuit Court judge tossed out capital murder and related charges against Darcel Nathaniel Murphy, who has been held in jail since 2016.

Douglas Ramseur, one of Murphy’s lawyers, said Thursday that Judge Timothy K. Sanner dismissed the murder, robbery, breaking and entering and firearm charges on a defense motion to strike the evidence as insufficient.

“That’s a courageous decision for a judge to make on a capital murder charge,” Ramseur said. Murphy, who turned 34 Tuesday, is from the Woodbridge area.

The case had earlier gained attention because of efforts by Murphy’s lawyers to have a large portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee removed from the courtroom.

Sanner ordered the painting taken down last month, ruling that the image of Lee was “unwelcoming to many of the African Americans, and others, who are compelled to appear in our courtroom as litigants, witnesses, jurors, attorneys and judges.”

In Murphy’s criminal case, the prosecution rested its case Wednesday afternoon and Ramseur said the defense — Murphy was also represented by Matthew Engle and Richard Johnson — argued its motion to strike.

“The judge came back on the bench this morning and granted it and dismissed all the charges,” said Ramseur.

On a motion to strike it must be shown that no reasonable judge or juror could find proof beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence, said Murphy’s lawyers.

Louisa Commonwealth’s Attorney Rusty McGuire wrote in an email Thursday, “We cannot comment at this time as one of the three charged in the murder of Kevin Robinson is still awaiting trial.”

According to The Central Virginian newspaper, Murphy was accused of the March 2016 slaying of Robinson, 43, in a house on Oakland Road. Prosecutors said Murphy, Dion Phoenix and Tobias Owens stole a watch before fleeing the scene, initially leading to capital murder charges and potential death sentences, the newspaper reported.

Court records show Phoenix, 28, pleaded guilty to murder and other charges in connection with the slaying. He was sentenced to 30 years for the murder and an additional 15 years for related charges, according to The Central Virginian newspaper.

Phoenix, a relative of Robinson, had been living in Robinson’s home but Robinson kicked him out, according to Ramseur. He said the evidence presented was that Phoenix, Murphy and Owens returned to Robinson’s house so Phoenix could pick up some belongings.

Ramseur said Thursday that Murphy was trying to deescalate a dispute between Phoenix and Robinson. “In the process, guns came out, [they] started firing. Kevin Robinson was killed, Darcel Murphy was shot … and Dion Phoenix killed Kevin Robinson,” he said.

“There’s no evidence he had a gun — he didn’t have a gun,” said Ramseur of Murphy. But authorities found Murphy’s blood in the house, he said.

Murphy initially faced a potential death sentence, but prosecutors later decided to only pursue a life term.

Records show that Owens is still awaiting trial on first-degree murder, robbery and other charges in connection with the March 30, 2016, slaying.

Ramseur said Murphy may not be immediately freed because there appear to be some probation violation charges lodged against him in other jurisdictions because of the charges stemming from Robinson’s murder.


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