Lengthy capital murder trial delayed until fall

The trial in a murder case approaching its fourth anniversary has been delayed another six months.

Darcel Murphy, of Stafford County, was supposed to go on trial in Louisa Circuit Court in March for the 2016 shooting of Kevin Robinson at his home on Oakland Road. Murphy faces a possible death sentence if he is convicted.

Between jury selection, the trial and a possible sentencing phase, the court had set aside an entire month for the proceedings.

But a key prosecution witness, an employee of the state Department of Forensic Services, will be out on maternity leave at the time the trial was scheduled. Louisa Circuit Court Judge Timothy Sanner agreed to postpone the trial until Sept. 28.

Meanwhile, Murphy’s attorneys presented what they said is evidence of a fourth person who may have been present when Robinson was killed. The man is identified only as “Bo” or “Boo” in court documents.

Dion Phoenix, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to first-degree murder in the same case, has told defense investigators about the supposed fourth participant, according to a motion filed by Murphy’s attorneys in circuit court. In addition, the legal team cited an audio interview in which the woman whose car was used by the defendants on the night of the murder claims “Boo” was a passenger.

Murphy’s attorneys Douglas Ramseur, Matthew Engle and Richard Johnson prepared a motion seeking possible exculpatory evidence from prosecutors that could mitigate the charges against their client. Sanner granted the motion.

Ramseur and his team said that Louisa County Sheriff’s Office Det. Mark Stanton had noted the possibility of a fourth suspect in April 2016, one month after the murder.

Prosecutors say Murphy and Phoenix, Robinson’s cousin, fired the shots that killed Robinson. Tobias Owens, the third defendant, is accused of waiting behind the wheel of the suspects’ car while they went into the house. Owens’ trial has not been scheduled.

Rusty McGuire, Louisa County Commonwealth’s Attorney, contended in a written motion that there was no physical evidence of a third person in the house at the time of the murder. Moreover, McGuire said, the state trooper who later pulled over Owens, Murphy and Phoenix in Stafford County found no sign another person had been in the vehicle.

McGuire filed a capital murder charge against Murphy and Phoenix because they allegedly stole a watch and attempted to steal other items from Robinson. Virginia’s criteria for capital murder include murder committed during a robbery. Unlike first-degree murder, capital murder carries with it a maximum sentence of death.

The charge against Phoenix, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was amended when he entered a guilty plea.

Another court date in the case is set for May 1.

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