On October 25, 2005, after a two day trial, a Lynchburg jury convicted 30-year old Emmitt L. Harsley, III of First Degree Murder and Use of a Firearm in the Commission of Murder for the August 31, 2004 killing of Clyde Arbrey Hilliard. The jury recommended that the defendant serve life in prison on the murder conviction and the mandatory five years on the Use of a Firearm conviction. The defendant will be formally sentenced on February 17, 2006 by Circuit Court Judge J. Leyburn Mosby.
The Commonwealth presented testimony from five eyewitnesses who all saw the defendant shoot Clyde Hilliard multiple times in front of building #1512 at the James Crossing Apartment Complex (formerly known as Greenfield). Witnesses then said that the defendant fled through the woods to 109 Bright Star Court where the defendant caught a cab and fled the area. The defendant then turned up at the apartment of an old friend and offered her $50 to rent a motel room for the night in her name; she refused his request. Despite a massive police manhunt, the defendant was not seen again until the defendant turned himself in to police in late September 2004. Following the murder, police executed a search warrant at the defendant's residence and found various items of clothing that witnesses said he was wearing on the night of the murder.
Another witness for the Commonwealth located a firearm in a storm drain in front of the residence at 109 Bright Star Court where the defendant caught the cab on the night of the murder. That gun, a .38 caliber revolver, along with a bullet recovered from the victim's body, were sent to the Division of Forensic Science in Roanoke. A forensic scientist at the state lab testified that the bullet recovered from Hilliard's body had been fired from the weapon recovered in the storm drain.
During the trial, the defendant took the stand in his own defense, claiming that he shot Hilliard in self-defense. The defendant testified that Hilliard turned toward him suddenly and he feared that Hilliard may have a gun. None of the witnesses for the prosecution or the defense actually saw Hilliard with a weapon. While on the stand, the defendant admitted to frequently carrying firearms despite being a convicted felon, saying that to him, carrying a gun was akin to an attorney carrying a laptop computer.
The defendant will remain incarcerated being held with no bond until his formal sentencing on February 17, 2006. The case was prosecuted by Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Chuck Felmlee and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jeff Bennett.