Jury will decide if punch was deadly [Bristol Herald Courier, Va.]

By Michael Owens, Bristol Herald Courier, Va.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 13--ABINGDON, Va. -- A Washington County, Va., Circuit Court jury will consider if Junior Kemper Spradlin killed a man with a single punch to the face, or the death resulted from a combination of unfortunate circumstances.

On Monday, the jury of four men and eight women spent the opening day of Spradlin's trial learning how Ronald Wade Roberts died mid-January, after stepping into the middle of what appeared to be a love spat. Spradlin, 42, is charged with second-degree murder.

"Ron was standing there ... with his hands in his pockets and the defendant, one punch, and Ron fell to the ground," Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Marianne Woolf said.

Today, jurors will have to decide if Roberts, who never regained consciousness, was the victim of a planned killing or a heat-of-passion attack by a jilted boyfriend.

"The difference between second-degree murder and manslaughter is malice," Woolf told jurors. "Malice is the intentional doing of a wrongful act."

A key piece of evidence played Monday was a message Spradlin left on his intermittent girlfriend's phone just moments before the showdown on her front lawn.

"I'm going to beat him when I see him," the recorded message said.

For Spradlin, a second-degree murder conviction would mean at least five years in prison. A manslaughter verdict would mean at least one year to serve.

"This is a case of emotion fueled by jealousy ... and of medical evidence," defense attorney Helen Phillips told jurors Monday.

Phillips spotlighted a neurosurgeon's diagnosis of a possible brain aneurism, Roberts' high blood pressure, a night of drinking and the nasty spill he might have suffered following the single punch.

"What you have to remember when you consider the evidence is there was only one punch," Phillips said. "(Roberts) falls and, well, there's another impact."

Spradlin is a self-employed construction worker best known as the man who escaped the botched police standoff in Blountville, Tenn., that left his mother's home in flames and enveloped in tear gas on April 27.

At the time, police were trying to arrest him on the second-degree murder charge. He surrendered to a local jail days later.

None of that surfaced Monday as attorneys for both sides focused on the events leading up to Roberts' injuries on Jan. 15 and the doctors' declaration the next day that he was brain dead. Roberts, 49, was a Hartford Insurance nuclear inspector from Nathalie, Va.

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Prosecution witnesses testified that Spradlin pounced soon after an evening of drinking and watching football at the county Moose Lodge.

On-again, off-again girlfriend Patsy Prater drove Spradlin there, according to testimony. But she left him behind soon after meeting Roberts, who was in town visiting his twin brother.

Spradlin caught up with them on the snow-covered front lawn of her Clark Street home in Abingdon, after hitching a ride from a Moose Lodge acquaintance.

Spradlin argued with Prater in her house, witnesses testified. The altercation came moments later, according to testimony, after Spradlin dumped his packed clothes into the acquaintance's car.

"The evidence is pretty straightforward," Woolf said. "You have four witnesses who saw the exact same thing ... and that's one punch to the head."

mowens@bristolnews.com -- (276) 645-2549


(c)2011 the Bristol Herald Courier (Bristol, Va.)

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