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Lucky Blue's shooter headed for plea deal

The shooting that erupted in a downtown Charlottesville bar, taking one man’s life and seriously wounding two female bystanders, appears headed for a plea agreement that would put the 34-year-old defendant in jail for at least 2 1/2 decades.

Marcel Darell Washington, who has admitted to opening fire in Lucky Blue’s on the Downtown Mall in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2022, appeared in Charlottesville Circuit Court last week to voice his desire for the deal, but the judge wasn’t ready to finalize a sentence.

“I’m inclined to accept it,” said Judge Richard E. Moore. “I’m just not sure.”

As nearly 50 people crammed the usually sparse courtroom on Feb. 15, Moore wrestled with the impact of his delay.

“My apologies to everyone involved in this case,” said Moore. “I know it’s inconvenient for you and it’s a heartache, but I need to be sure it’s the right thing to do.”

Moore noted that he was accepting Washington’s three guilty pleas — to second-degree murder and two malicious wounding charges — but still wrestling with the proposed sentence, he said, due to the injured bystanders.

“That’s the factor,” said Moore, “that gives me pause.”

The judge expressed frustration that the active jail term, which the deal sets at 25 years, when the maximum is 80, would be finalized before he’d get to hear impact statements from the victims.

“The consequences are already set,” agreed Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania, “but that process is of great value to them.”

In the midst of an especially bloody period of Charlottesville history, that saw gun violence skyrocket throughout the city, the Lucky Blue’s shooting still stands out for many. Not only did the violence occur on the city’s popular Downtown Mall, but award-winning photojournalist Eze Amos was able to grab snapshots of the immediate aftermath that made the rounds on social media and a bar patron was able to give an eyewitness account of what occurred.

Platania said that surveillance footage inside Lucky Blue’s shows an “unfriendly conversation” shortly before 1 a.m. between Washington and the victim, 31-year-old Davonn Jamar Wilson.

“You can tell from the body language,” said Platania. “This was all captured on video.”

What happened next, Platania said, was that Wilson punched Washington four times.

“It pushes Mr. Washington back a little bit,” said Platania.

Platania said that Washington responded by reaching into a back waistband, withdrawing a handgun and firing inside the crowded bar.

“You can see muzzle flashes as he advances on the retreating Mr. Wilson,” said Platania.

As the two men exited Lucky Blue’s onto the Downtown Mall, another surveillance camera captured Wilson fleeing east in the direction of the Ting Pavilion, Platania said. He said the footage from the exterior camera shows only a few steps of Wilson’s escape, but it also shows what Washington did next.

“He continues to fire at the fleeing Mr. Wilson,” said Platania, “and you can see a couple of muzzle flashes.”

Wilson fell near the end of the block, according to Platania’s account, which noted that a bartender trained in emergency medical procedures rushed out of the nearby Bebedero restaurant to administer aid. Platania said that Wilson had been shot six times, and investigators recovered 13 shell casings at the scene, five inside the bar and eight on the bricks of the Mall.

The two bystanders who were struck that night were stay-at-home mother Kendra Hunt, who was celebrating a wedding in her family, and Andrea Fortunati, a University of Virginia swim and dive trainer, celebrating a national title, according to Platania.

Each woman, coincidentally, was shot once through a thigh and each also suffered a grazing second gunshot wound in her foot or ankle. Both injured women, Platania said, needed a tourniquet to slow the blood loss.

“They thought they might have minutes to live,” said Platania.

Defense attorney Todd Stone said that Washington fired in the “heat of passion” after the beating he took inside the bar on a night when he was just trying to mind his own business.

“I would describe this as a pretty vicious attack by a man bigger than Washington,” said Stone. “He was getting backed into the corner.”

Stone said Washington had reason to fear that Wilson had a gun.

Court records show that Wilson was arrested 10 days earlier on Oct. 13, 2022, for pointing a gun at people and appearing to pull the trigger at the now-shuttered Wicked Hits game parlor on Harris Street. Although the incident caused no known injuries or damage, Stone said video of the gun-wielding Wilson circulated so widely on social media that Washington had reason to expect Wilson to escalate the violence on Oct. 23, 2022.

“He did not set out to do this,” said Stone, “and would not have done it were it not for that fear and getting pushed into the back of the bar.”

While never claiming that Wilson’s fisticuffs excused the responding volley of bullets, Stone said the punches were both unexpected and unprovoked. The judge then asked what launched the argument, and while the prosecutor pleaded ignorance the defense attorney had an answer.

“Devonn Wilson felt disrespected because Mr. Washington did not shake his hand,” said Stone, before quickly adding another detail. “The autopsy showed that Devonn Wilson had substances in his body.”

The prosecutor told the judge that although the shooting evidence was firm, there was indeed a chance that a jury could agree with a “heat of passion” defense and render a softer verdict than the 25-year deal that both sides were endorsing.

“The certainty of a very significant prison sentence not only meets the needs of the victims,” said Platania, “but also protects and represents the community.”

Albemarle County Circuit Court records show that Washington, raised in Charlottesville but recently living in Charlotte, North Carolina, has prior local convictions for gang recruitment and drug distribution, as well as a charge of violating probation. Each conviction, though, dates back more than a decade, and it was noted in court that Washington was arrested without incident while enjoying family time at a Tennessee trampoline park.

“Mr. Washington was a productive citizen prior to this,” said Stone, “and had he not had a firearm with him he would not be sitting here.”

Stone revealed something else that sparked several surprised glances in the courtroom gallery on Feb. 15. He said that before the shooting Washington created an anti-gun violence nonprofit organization called Stop the Shots. In response to a post-hearing query, Stone told The Daily Progress that he did not have any additional information about Stop the Shots.

Dressed in the striped jumpsuit that is the inmate uniform at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he’s been held since his arrest, Washington said little during the hearing other than responding “Yes, sir,” “Guilty, your honor” and “Guilty on that one” to questions posed by the judge.

His plea agreement allows Washington to assert his guilt via a so-called Alford plea, in which he declines to admit the charges, even though the plea has the same legal impact as any other guilty plea. The judge ordered a presentence report and set the sentencing hearing for June 25.


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