BREAKING: Adkins found guilty of murder in Guyandotte beating death
HUNTINGTON — After three days of listening to testimony at a Huntington murder trial, a Cabell County jury ruled Friday a Huntington man was beaten to death by a Cabell County defendant along the Guyandotte River banks last year.
Anthony Scott Adkins, 32, was found guilty of first-degree murder after standing trial this week in the beating death of Douglas E. Daniels, 39, also of Huntington, on May 4, 2017, after Daniels was found dead on the west bank of the Guyandotte River, behind the floodwall and near the intersection of 31st Street and 5th Avenue. The man he says was his half-brother, Joey Vernetter, was seen running from the scene before jumping into the Guyandotte River before he drowned.
About an hour and a half after the jury started deliberations Friday, they submitted two questions to Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard asking for better clarification on what defines aiding and abetting and what type of liability there was for that in a criminal case.
Howard declined to answer the question, stating the jury must make that decision based on instructions, which had thoroughly been discussed before deliberations by both defense attorneys and prosecutors and sent to the jury room with them.
Five minutes after they returned to continue deliberation, the jury had reached the guilty verdict. Adkins remained emotionless upon hearing the conviction.
Adkins sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 1. Cabell County Prosecutor Sean “Corky” Hammers said he will meet with prosecutors to determine if his office will seek a life without mercy sentence. If prosecutors decide to move forward in asking for no mercy, jurors will return to the courtroom for a hearing in which each side will present character witnesses before the jury will determine the sentencing.
In presenting their case, assistant prosecutors Sharon Frazier and Kelly Neal alleged Adkins had assisted Vernetter in taking Daniels to the ground and brutally beating him with their fists and feet, and eventually a rock he found along the riverbank.
The defense attorneys Kerry Nessel and Todd Meadows argued Adkins’ participation was minor, stating he didn’t even punch or kick Daniels and that he had only tried to break up the fight between Vernetter and Daniels. Even if he had hit the victim, he had no rock or foreign object in his hand. If he had wanted to kill Daniels, he could have used a knife that was in his backpack, they said.
Adkins’ being at the scene, shoving Daniels and not stopping the attack or seeking medical attention for him after he left the scene shows his malicious intent for Daniels to die and is enough alone to convict him, Frazier said.
Nessel said he was shocked to hear the verdict and said he believes conviction was based on pure emotions and the gruesome crime scene photos shown by prosecutors.
“The guy didn’t pick up a rock. He didn’t pick up a brick. He didn’t do anything,” he said. “He was down there, but if they can find him guilty of first-degree murder for aiding and abetting, for not even really putting a hand on this guy, then any defendant is in peril.”
Hammers was pleased with the conviction and said it showed the jurors are tired of the violence in the local community.
“I wouldn’t expect any jury to just take the word of the charged defendant over all of the witnesses in the case,” he said. “And they didn’t buy into the defendant getting on the witness stand and saying ‘I didn’t do it.’”
An eyewitness who was fishing with her boyfriend at the time of the attack testified on the prosecution’s behalf she had seen Adkins push Daniels first before he went to the ground and the two men began punching and kicking him together. Her boyfriend, who testified for the defense, said Adkins was calm during the attack and never hit Daniels with a rock. All the while, Vernetter had been yelling for Daniels to die and go to sleep while cursing.
He said Vernetter had picked up a rock as Adkins left to meet his girlfriend at a gas station in Guyandotte. Howard ruled prosecutors could not bring up Adkins’ statement to police in which he said as he was leaving Vernetter said he was going to “pull one of his old tricks”, referring to an incident years ago when Adkins was convicted of repeatedly hitting a man in the head with a brick.
Two women – Adkins’ girlfriend and her friend – had testified Adkins arrived at the gas station covered in blood and that he had told them he got in a fight along the riverbanks where he and Vernetter had struck Daniels with a rock and killed him.
The women testified they were trying to talk to Adkins about what had happened, but he was drunk, erratic and ranting about how Daniels would not run his mouth anymore.
Once dropped off at the hospital emergency room, Adkins went to the bathroom to change clothing and wash himself. While alone his girlfriend called for help so the police would know of Adkins location, prosecutors said. She was released from the hospital about an hour-and-a-half after arriving, and called a cab to go to the grocery store.
Meanwhile, the news of what had happened along the river had been released to media and at least one person, Christopher McCallister, called Adkins to see if he knew what had happened. McCallister testified earlier in the week Adkins had said he had kicked and beat Daniels to death with a rock, along with Vernetter.
Adkins took the stand in his own defense Thursday, stating prosecutors and their witnesses were liars. He was not covered in blood when he met up with his girlfriend and he did not have a rock or kick Daniels while he was down, he said. When he was in the car driving to the hospital, they didn’t even talk, he testified.
Although he admitted to striking Daniels at least once in a police interview more than five hours after he was captured, Adkins said he had been drunk at the time and didn’t give correct information.
He had actually tried to save Daniels, he testified, and knelt at his side while cradling his head in his hands to see if he was OK. That would account for the blood on the knees of his pants, he said. As he was doing this, Vernetter ran toward him to kick Daniels as Adkins jumped out of the way, which would account for the blood lower on his pants.
Huntington Police Lt. Dave Castle, who leads the Huntington Police Forensics Unit, said there was no evidence of blood pooling in the area where Adkins said he had knelt and blood splatter evidence showed he had been near Daniels for more than one bloody strike to the head, which is contradictory to Adkins’ testimony.
Castle added in his nearly 30 years of service, he had never seen a head beaten to the degree as Daniels’, whose head he said had left a 3 inch indention in the ground. There were no blood stains down his shirt, which indicated he never stood up after the attack began, he testified.
The defense had argued there was no way Adkins could have delivered that impact with his small size of about 90 pounds at the time. However, Frazier pointed to Adkins’ testimony in which he said he was strong enough to keep the two full grown men apart when the fight had started and later pushed them both to the ground at separate moments.
Prosecutors said Adkins knew Daniels had died because he had fully participated and that’s why he fled the Guyandotte neighborhood directly after leaving the scene.
Adkins said he had not fled to evade an arrest, because he didn’t know he was in trouble. His erratic behavior was because he was intoxicated and knew his girlfriend was mad at him for that when he had previously told her he would stop drinking to work on his alcohol dependency issues.
An entire date night had been planned by Adkins and his girlfriend that night, which would include a trip to the emergency room and a home-cooked meal. Adkins said they had pre-planned to go grocery shopping, but his girlfriend said they went there as a delay tactic only because she did not want him to come back to her house. Prosecutors questioned how they would have been able to plan for a romantic night when a visit to the emergency room could sometimes last hours.
Adkins was taken back into custody after his conviction and will remained housed at Western Regional Jail until his next hearing.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.