On October 2, 2012, Michael Harold Justus was sentenced to serve 20 years in a Virginia prison following a brief sentencing hearing in the Buchanan County Circuit Court.  In June, a Buchanan County jury convicted the 37 year-old Raven, Virginia man of murder and the use of a firearm during the commission of murder.  The jury ultimately recommended a 20 year prison sentence.

Testimony at trial revealed that Harris had moved in with his sister, Wendy Harris and her fiancé, Michael Justus in March 2011.  The trio began drinking during the evening hours of April 1, 2011 and that sometime after midnight, Wendy Harris called a friend to come and pick her up because Justus was becoming very agitated.  Ms. Harris then went out into the yard to wait on her ride and her brother Donnie came out to check on her.  While the two were talking outside, Justus came out and began making threats and drew back his fist to strike his fiancé.  At that point, her brother stepped in, and he and Justus wrestled their way into the home.

While in the home, Donnie Harris pinned Justus to the ground and began punching him.   Wendy Harris broke up the fight and began trying to alert the authorities concerning Justus’ threats of violence.  Evidence revealed that shortly after the fight ended, Justus went into his bedroom and retrieved a 9mm pistol, walked over to Donnie Harris, and pointed the pistol at Harris’ forehead.  Justus coldly said “Ill teach you to mess with me” before firing a single shot that dropped Harris to the ground.

During the sentencing hearing, Commonwealth’s Attorney Gerald Arrington noted that while the Commonwealth had sought a life sentence, it understood that the jury, in its wisdom and discretion, had seen fit to convict Justus of lesser offense and recommend the 20 year sentence.  Arrington went on to argue that Justus should “serve every single day of the jury’s recommended sentence.”

When asked for comment, Arrington stated “when I took office, I promised the citizens of our county that I would take a tough stance against violent criminals and I feel that this case shows a clear commitment to keep those promises.  Mr. Justus claimed that he had acted in self defense but the evidence clearly and convincingly showed otherwise, and the jury agreed when it returned its verdict.  We hope that this result will bring peace and closure to the Harris family.”  Arrington went on to praise investigators for the Virginia State Police and Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office for their hard work in bringing this case to trial.

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