Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

October 3, 2012

Tazewell man gets 20 years in prison on murder charge

GRUNDY, Va. — A Tazewell County man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday in Buchanan County Circuit Court on a charge  of murder.

Michael Harold Justus, 37, of Raven, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of Donnie Harris in Buchanan County during a sentencing hearing in Buchanan County Circuit Court, according to Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Arrington.

A Buchanan County jury convicted Justus on charges of murder and the use of a firearm during the commission of a murder in June. At that time, the jury recommended a 20-year sentence, Arrington said.

According to Arrington, testimony at trial revealed the incident began on April 1, 2011 when Michael Justus was at his fiancé Wendy Harris’ house with her and her brother, Donnie Harris.

“Wendy Harris called a friend to come and pick her up because Justus was becoming very agitated,” Arrington said. “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.”

Arrington said after the fight ended, evidence revealed Justus retrieved a 9mm pistol from the house and pointed the pistol at Harris’ forehead. According to witnesses, Justus said “I’ll teach you to mess with me” before firing a single shot into Donnie Harris.

Arrington said the Commonwealth originally argued for Justus to receive a life sentence.

“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 said. “Justus should serve every single day of the jury’s recommended sentence. 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 credited investigators with the Virginia State Police and Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office for helping bring the case to trial.

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