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Charlottesville man to face murder trial in death of wife

A murder trial will proceed against a Charlottesville man charged with killing his estranged wife.

James Elliott Fitch, 59, was arrested in November following the slaying of his wife, Yvette Fitch.

Though Fitch’s trial is set to begin in September, the transcript from a preliminary hearing in Albemarle County Juvenile and Domestic Court sheds some light on the commonwealth’s case against Fitch.

Held May 10, the preliminary hearing featured testimony from several witnesses and detectives involved in the case.

According to evidence presented by Holly Vradenburgh, assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Albemarle, Yvette Fitch was pronounced dead on the evening of Nov. 21 after suffering two gunshot wounds to the head. Over the course of the hearing, Vradenburgh called witnesses to testify to the events surrounding the incident.

The first witness called was Beverley Ann Hoffman, who said she had employed Yvette Fitch as a home care worker to assist her ill husband at their North Garden home.

Per the transcript, on the night of Nov. 21, Hoffman said Yvette Fitch had been working the evening shift and stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. As Hoffman walked by the window, she said she saw arms extended and pointed toward Yvette Fitch’s head and then heard a gunshot.

Because the window was small and frosted, Hoffman said she did not get a good look at who the person with the gun was before they fled. She then called 911.

The second witness called was Wanda Hawkins, James Fitch’s sister. According to the transcript of her testimony, her brother told her that he did not kill his wife but was in possession of a gun that he had hidden at Jordan Park. Hawkins later communicated this information to the Albemarle County Police Department, which uncovered a .22-caliber revolver.

Andrew Holmes, lead investigator on the case, also was called to testify. According to the transcript, Holmes testified that he was contacted by James Fitch on the night after his wife’s death and then interviewed him at the police department.

According to Holmes’ testimony, Fitch told him that he and his wife were estranged and had not been living together for several months. They were going through a divorce, Holmes said in the transcript, which was a result of accusations that Yvette Fitch had been romantically involved with other men. Fitch also described videos in his possession that depicted his wife in situations that confirmed her infidelity.

“He was very agitated in discussing [the videos],” Holmes said, per the transcript. “Animated with his hands, and indicated to me that those actions and his knowledge of them made him mad, pissed him off.”

Per the transcript, Holmes also testified that Fitch confirmed he knew where Yvette Fitch worked. He claimed to have been shopping at the time of the shooting, Holmes testified, but was unable to provide any specific details such as where he shopped and what he purchased.

Holmes also testified that Fitch admitted to calling his wife on the night of the shooting to discuss their relationship and their divorce, though his attitude toward the separation changed during the interview.

“At one point in time, he said he was fine with it, that he was OK moving on, and, you know, didn’t have an issue with it,” Holmes said, according to the transcript. “At other points, he indicated that he was going to get his own attorney and wouldn’t sign the papers that she was requesting him to sign, that he was going to fight it because he felt like she owed him money.”

Scott Mayo, who had employed James Fitch at his garage, testified that he was aware of the couple’s issues and had heard Fitch say he was going to kill Yvette Fitch, and that he advised against it. Mayo also said that he overheard Fitch and another man discussing a small-caliber firearm in the former’s possession.

The final witness called was police Detective Mike Belew, who testified that he found a .22-caliber revolver wrapped in a white shirt in Jordan Park. According to the transcript, Belew testified that, upon examination of the revolver, it was determined that two chambers were empty. Additionally, he said there was evidence that three of the rounds were struck at the primer, though one round had misfired and not left the revolver.

During the argument portion of the preliminary hearing, Fitch’s attorney, Sheila Haughey, argued that many of the details did not sufficiently point to her client.

“We don’t know what gun killed her,” Haughey said, according to the transcript. “There is a gun that has been discussed in testimony today, but we do not know if it is the murder weapon. There’s been nothing to tie it in as the murder weapon.”

Haughey additionally argued that there is no evidence of any person seeing Fitch near the scene of the incident nor any DNA evidence.

Vradenburgh argued that the situation is “a classic means, motive and opportunity” case that, at the point of the hearing, the commonwealth believed to meet the probable cause standard.

“I think the most compelling evidence that we have here today is the fact that after he came to the police, he told his sister where he had discarded his gun, wrapped in a shirt, by his house and the police found it right where he said it was going to be with two shots missing,” Vradenburgh said, according to the transcript. “The victim died as a result of two gunshot wounds to the head.”

As a result of the preliminary hearing, a second-degree murder charge against Fitch was certified and a grand jury handed down an indictment in June.


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