PRINCETON — Relief and tears of anguish greeted the verdict Thursday when a Mercer County jury found a Bluefield man not guilty of first-degree murder in the December 2013 shooting death of a Virginia resident.
The 12-member circuit court jury deliberated for more than three hours before finding 34-year-old Morrisettie Levar Leggett not guilty of first-degree murder. Leggett was arrested and later indicted after the Dec. 8, 2013 death of David Bailey, 35, of Bluefield, Va.
Jurors started deliberating at 3:15 p.m. and announced at approximately 6:35 p.m. that they had a verdict. Members of Bailey’s family wept after hearing the verdict.
Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope had issued instructions for the jury to leave the Mercer County Courthouse first and ordered everyone else to remain in the courtroom until the jurors were gone. Both families left the courthouse in stages. Leggett, his family and attorneys immediately left the courthouse grounds and did not speak with reporters.
“They let a cold-blooded murderer get away!” one woman who had been sitting with Bailey’s family and friends shouted as she left the courthouse. Deputies with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department watched outside the courthouse until everyone had cleared the area.
The verdict concluded a three-day trial in which Leggett’s attorneys, Jay Williams and David Kelley, argued their client had acted in self-defense when he shot Bailey outside Club Maximus, a nightclub near Princeton, on the morning of Dec. 8, 2013.
Leggett, who was working as a part-time deejay, went to Club Maximus after a scheduled deejay could not come to work. There he later saw Tabitha Neal, now of Nevada, who was the mother of one of his two sons. Bailey, who had been dating Neal, arrived later. Bailey was later in a fight and ejected from the club, but later returned, club employees testified during the trial. Leggett said he stayed until the club was getting ready to close.
While being questioned by Kelley, Leggett said Bailey approached him with his fists up when he tried to leave the club.
Leggett said he had a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver for protection, and had not expected to see Bailey the morning of Dec. 8, 2013. He stated when Bailey came toward him, he did not see any weapons, but did not know if Bailey had anything in his fists. Leggett also said he feared Bailey could knock him unconscious, then take his gun.
Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash asked Leggett why he chose to use his gun when Bailey challenged him to a fistfight.
“You had a gun, so you had to use it?” Ash asked.
“No, sir,” Leggett replied.
When Ash asked Leggett where he kept his gun while Bailey confronted him, he replied that the revolver was in a holster. Ash said Leggett had time to draw the gun and fire while Bailey was approximately six feet away from him.
“I was worried about him doing harm to me,” Leggett said. When Ash asked if he had considered going back into the club, appealing for help from fellow employees or taking any action other than shooting Bailey, Leggett replied, “I didn’t have time.”
“Everything happened so fast. I wasn’t going to turn my back on somebody trying to fight me,” Leggett said later. He described shooting Bailey.
“I remember pulling the gun and I remember hearing the shots, and I saw David turn and run,” Leggett said. He then recalled panicking and driving from the club. “I knew I shot at him. I thought I didn’t hit him because he turned and ran...I didn’t see him fall. I just seen him turn and run.”
Three of the five shots Leggett fired hit Bailey in the chest area and right hip area, a forensic examiner testified.
Leggett said he then drove to his parents’ Bluefield home and told them about the shooting. They advised their son to turn himself in. Leggett contacted a police officer he knew, Sgt. Matthew Beck, now retired, of the Bluefield Police Department. Leggett told Beck about the incident and gave him the gun.
Beck testified that he had known Leggett for more than 10 years and was “shocked” to hear him say he had shot another person. Leggett was driven to the Mercer Mall where he was turned over to Deputy G.C. Paitsel of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department.
During his testimony Thursday, Leggett said he did not know Bailey had died until the investigating officer, Detective Sgt. L.B. Murphy of the sheriff’s department, told him.
“I laid my head down on the table and I believe I started to cry,” Leggett recalled.
Leggett admitted drinking six beers at the club. Ash asked if drinking these beers could have affected his thinking.
“No, sir,” Leggett replied.
When Swope asked if the defense had additional questions, Kelley asked his client if he had done anything to provoke Bailey that night.
“No, sir,” Leggett stated.
If found guilty, Leggett could have faced the possibility of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The jury could also have found him guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a penalty of 10 to 40 years in prison.