Jesse James Owens pleaded guilty Monday to the Feb. 8, 2013 murder of Dephie Wiley during Carroll County Circuit Court. Owens’ attorney, Jonathan Venzie, and Commonwealth Attorney Nathan Lyons agreed to a plea deal, which was then accepted by Circuit Court Judge Brett Geisler.
After being advised of his right by Judge Geisler, Owens, 31, pleaded guilty to four charges, the most serious being first-degree murder. He received a sentence of 87 years for that charge, 37 years of that active and another 50 years of active probation. As for use of a firearm in commission of a felony, Owens received three years. He also pleaded to possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony, which carried a sentence of five years, two years active and three suspended, and possession of ammunition after being convicted of a felony, five years, all suspended.
The sentencing amounts to 100 years, 42 of which will be active. Another 58 will be suspended, with 50 of those being active probation. In addition, he was fined $1,336 in restitution for Wiley’s funeral.
Lyons said Venzie approached him about a plea bargain, which took about a month and a half to iron out. The good thing about the plea bargain, said Lyons, is that it “saves the family some grief.”
“The family gets a lot of closure. They don’t have to hear any more of the graphic details or see the graphic photos that would be presented in a trial. There’s no chance of an appeal, so they can grieve. The family was pleased with the outcome.”
During a preliminary hearing on Sept. 10, Nathan Dowell, a witness for the prosecution, testified that Owens shot Wiley with an automatic Marlin .22 caliber rifle on the night of Feb. 8 while the three were “drinking and partying” together at Owen’s home at 90 Boot Jack Drive in Woodlawn. Dowell also testified that he left the premises after the shooting, but upon return saw Owens loading Wiley’s body into a truck.
Dowell called the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department later that night and deputies, led by Investigator Seth Adam Greer, arrived. Greer noted a “significant blood spot in the driveway, and blood and drag marks from the front door to the driveway.” Greer further testified that after obtaining the necessary search warrant, he found a “significant amount of blood near the gun cabinet and blood smeared on a light switch.” In addition, a live .22 cartridge was found on the front porch and a spent .22 caliber casing in the residence.
Later that night, Greer received a call from the Hillsville Police Department, which had located Owens and had him in custody. Greer spoke to Owens at about 1 a.m. at the sheriff’s department. After being Mirandized by Greer, Owens admitted that he knew Wiley but denied knowing where she was. Later on Feb. 9, the sheriff’s department received a call that a body had been found at Brushy Fork Road and Holly Ridge Road in Cana. The body was later identified as that of Wiley’s. The Western Virginia Forensics Lab later determined that Wiley died from a “gunshot to the head.”
In a second interrogation, Greer, after advising Owens of his Miranda rights, asked him what happened at his trailer on Feb. 8. Greer said Owens’ initial statement was that Owens, Dowell and Wiley “were partying at his trailer, dancing around and the Marlin rifle fell over and shot Wiley.” Owens then told Greer he took Wiley’s body to a Cana area he was “familiar with and unloaded her.” However, after Greer told Owens the trajectory of the bullet didn’t fit with that account of events, Owens admitted that he shot Wiley in the head.
A search warrant issued for Owens’ truck revealed several items, including clothes, gloves and a CD, which all were proven later to have Wiley’s DNA on them.
Michael Howlett can be contacted at 276-728-7311 or on Twitter@MikeEHowlett