ORANGE—A jury of eight women and seven men has been seated in the trial of a Locust Grove man charged with first-degree murder in a slaying at a small business just a few miles from his home in Lake of the Woods.
Michael Alan Humphries II, 38, is charged in the Feb. 13, 2018, shooting death of 24-year-old Alistair Smith of Unionville inside Wendell’s Place Laundromat on State Route 20 in Orange County. Humphries has pleaded not guilty to murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Allegations of a relationship between Humphries’ wife and Smith—who worked together at the nearby Sheetz in Locust Grove—have been cited as a possible motive in the case. Opening statements will be heard Monday morning in Orange County Circuit Court.
Jurors can also expect to see graphic photos from the crime scene during the trial, Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana O’Connell advised during the selection process Friday.
Selection of the 15-member jury, including three alternates, took about three hours. Dozens more potential jurors were summoned for the relatively high-profile case, filling the hallways outside the courtroom to overflow.
Judge Dale Durrer repeatedly instructed jurors to not discuss the case with anyone until all the evidence had been presented, and only then within the confines of the jury room. He strongly instructed the jury not to seek out information about the case through any news media or on the internet and to not engage in any sort of research.
Humphries appeared in court Friday in a long-sleeved, button-up white shirt, black pants and black tie, seated alongside defense attorney David Randle. He had a closely-cropped beard and wrote notes for much of the day’s proceedings.
At a pre-trial hearing Thursday in circuit court, Judge Durrer denied a defense motion to exclude from jury view several crime scene photographs that Randle unsuccessfully argued would be unduly prejudicial.
“I just worry we may have a group of citizens that may not be able to look at them,” the defense attorney said. “These are the kinds of photos that may shock the jury.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kelsey Bolin argued that as long as the photos accurately reflect the crime scene and the victim’s injuries, the jury should be allowed to view them. Motive, intent, premeditation and malice are all elements the prosecution will need to prove as part of its case, Bolin said, calling the photographs, “an independent silent witness” to the purported events of the day more than 19 months ago.
Smith was shot twice in the head and once in the arm, she said. Bolin told the judge on Thursday that the commonwealth had been conservative in selecting which images to use at trial to accurately depict the autopsy report presented to the jury.
In ruling against the defense motion, Durrer said just because crime scene photographs are gruesome does not mean they are impermissible. Images must be excluded from evidence if the prejudicial effect on a jury outweighs the probative value, he added.
“They are part of the proof of what the commonwealth has to show,” the judge said, adding that he was not in a position “to sanitize the evidence.”
As part of his instructions on Friday, the judge told jury members to not visit the laundromat where the shooting occurred or the Sheetz in Locust Grove.
Video footage from Wendell’s Place on the day of the crime showed a man entering the laundromat and shooting Smith with a long rifle and then exiting the business.
While Orange County Sheriff’s Office investigators were on the scene, Humphries turned himself in at the jail and stated that he had “shot a guy,” according to court records. The defendant reportedly told authorities he believed Smith and his wife were having an affair, according to the criminal complaint.
The jury will convene in the jury room at 8:40 a.m. on Monday for the case that is expected to last most of next week.