Jan McKinley Williams

Jan McKinley Williams

PRINCETON – A man who was convicted of second-degree murder for the October 2018 shooting death a Mercer County man listened Friday as a judge gave him the maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

Jan McKinley Williams Jr., 26, was originally charged with first-degree murder for the Oct. 28, 2018 death of 29-year-old Jason Varney. Varney died after being shot once in the back and again in the elbow on Kee Street in Princeton. Williams sought out Varney after being paid $200 in counterfeit money for narcotics, according to testimony during the trial. Attorneys representing Williams told the jury that their client had acted in self defense when he thought Varney was about to pull out a gun.

Williams pleaded guilty on May 28, 2019 to second-degree murder, but Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope rejected the plea agreement that following August after he was informed that Varney’s family opposed it. 

Swope told the family that there was no way of knowing what verdict a jury could reach after hearing how the case involved “a drug deal gone bad.” The jury could convict Williams of a lesser offense such as involuntary manslaughter or even find him not guilty.

A jury deliberated March 12 for a little more than an hour before finding Williams guilty of second-degree murder.

Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler asked the court to impose the maximum 40 years sentence.

“This is exactly what the state had agreed to for the sentence,” Sitler said. “A young man’s life was taken senselessly.”

Varney’s sister, Tonya Varney, cried as she read a statement in court.

“My brother was a good person,” she managed to say, later adding, “You didn’t just take his life that day, you took my mother’s life and you took my life. I pray you find God, because you are just cold. You are a cold-hearted killer ... we go and visit the graveyard, but that’s not my brother. I hope when you sleep at night you see his face and realize what you’ve done. That’s all I got to say to you.”

Looking over his shoulder, Williams apologized to Varney’s family for what had happened.

Attorney Josh Lawson, who represented Williams with attorney Brandon Austin, said their client took responsibility for his actions. Lawson said there had been talk locally and in the media about Williams having a “cold heart and a blank stare,” but added that Williams was following their instructions.

“We instruct our clients not to make faces or show emotions because we don’t want the courtroom to become a circus,” Lawson said.

Judge Swope said the Kee Street shooting was the third time Williams had been involved in a crime with guns. In 2016, the Mercer County Grand Jury indicted him on a charge of being accessory after the fact. The charge was connected to a fatal shooting which occurred in January 2016 outside the Quality Inn in Bluefield.

“He was the last person to possess the murder weapon,” Swope said.

In January 2015, Williams was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and having a concealed gun that was missing its serial number, Swope stated.

Swope sentenced Williams to a maximum of 40 years in prison. Williams received 579 days credit for the time he has spent in jail since his arrest. With time off for good behavior and the jail credit, he could serve a little more than 18 years in prison.

Williams gave up his right to move for a new trial or appeal is conviction. Sitler said after the hearing that Williams faced the possibility of a first-degree murder conviction and life in prison if he had a second trial.

“I’m just sorry he didn’t get life,” Varney’s mother, Tina Hypes, said outside the courtroom.


Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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