After deliberating more than four hours, a Mercer County jury found a local man guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of a Lashmeet resident earlier this year.
Harvey L. “Lee” Henley, 34, of Princeton faced a penalty of life in prison for first-degree murder after the Feb. 6 death of Johnny Midkiff II, 33, of Lashmeet. Midkiff was shot once in the head after pulling his Humvee up to Henley along Route 10 in Lashmeet.
After Judge William Sadler read his instructions to the jury, the jurors had five choices to consider for a verdict: guilty of murder in the first-degree; guilty of murder in the first-degree with a recommendation of mercy; second-degree murder; voluntary manslaughter; and not guilty. Under a recommendation of mercy, a person is eligible for parole in 15 years.
Sen-tencing was scheduled for Dec. 6. Henley is facing a penalty of 3 to 15 years of imprisonment.
During the trial, members of Midkiff’s family testified that a stranger wearing a hood and mask came to their street the night of Feb. 6 and asked for a person named Smith who was selling an all-terrain vehicle. Midkiff and his father, Johnny Midkiff Sr., followed in a Humvee to see if the person had left the area. The father testified that his son was shot after the pulled up to the man along Route 10 and started talking to him.
Henley said in statements to detectives with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department that he had been getting threats from Midkiff, who was dating his estranged wife.
In their closing arguments, attorneys for the state and the defense questioned the accuracy of information presented during the trial. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said Henley knew that Midkiff had been just released from jail that day after bonding out from a stalking charge; when he left for Lashmeet, he knew Midkiff might be at home.
“He went out to find trouble,” Sitler said of the defendant.
Henley said in statements he gave to investigators that he started walking after his Ford Explorer broke down. His stated his reason for going to Lashmeet was to visit a friend and tried to walk to that friend’s home after his vehicle broke down, but Sitler pointed out that phone records showed Henley had made several calls to his son — he had cell phone service and could have called for help.
“He didn’t call his friend two miles away,” Sitler said, picking up a camouflage face mask. “Instead he went there, his face obscured by this mask.”
The home, located off Route 10 in Lashmeet, is on a dead end street, Sitler pointed out.
“There’s no reason to be back there. The only thing is to take the fight to his wife’s boyfriend,” he said.
Sitler also told the jury that Henley had time to reconsider his actions. Walking from his broken down vehicle in Willowbrook to Lashmeet took 35 minutes in the snowy conditions that night.
“That’s a lot of time...time to think, time to have second thoughts,” he said. “No, he was determined to confront John Midkiff. Lee Henley wanted to kill his wife’s lover and he did.”
Defense attorney William Flanigan reminded the jurors that Johnny Midkiff II and his father, Johnny Midkiff Sr. got into a black Humvee and went to where Henley was walking along Route 10. Even if Henley was the person the Midkiff family reported seeing outside their home, he was walking away and did not pose a threat, Flanigan said.
Flanigan said the Midkiff senior testified that they would have taken a gun with them if they had been certain the person was Henley. Flanigan argued that they likely had a weapon with them.
“They went to him with a gun, they went to him with a military vehicle,” Flanigan said. “You can’t chase him down the road and shoot him like a dog.”
Besides arguing that the Midkiffs had confronted Henley, Flanigan said that his client’s behavior the day of the shooting was not consistent with somebody planning to commit murder. Henley had spoken with an aunt who regularly called him to make sure he did not oversleep and reported for work at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and he had spent the day removing snow.
Flanigan also said that the fact Henley’s vehicle broke down was “proof of the pudding” that he did not plan to commit murder; his getaway vehicle wasn’t available.
Another aspect of the case, Henley carrying a gun that night, came about because he had been having problems with Midkiff, a man he thought was often armed, Flanigan said, adding that Henley could not have known that Midkiff would come to him.
Making one last statement, Sitler reminded the jury that Henley denied, during his first statement to investigators, that he had a gun or had shot Midkiff. In a second interview, Henley admitted to shooting Midkiff and explained his actions by saying: “Okay, I had to. He had a gun.”
On the subject about whether the Midkiffs were armed when they drove up to Henley, Sitler said if Midkiff senior had possessed a gun when his son was killed, he could have taken some “rough justice” and shot Henley.