PRINCETON — A 9-mm pistol, counterfeit money featuring Chinese script and a bloodied T-shirt with a bullet hole in its back were among the evidence a jury saw Tuesday when a trial of a Mercer County man facing first-degree murder an October 2018 shooting death got underway in circuit court.
Jan McKinley Williams Jr., 25, is being tried before Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope in connection with the death of 29-year-old Jason Varney, who was shot Oct. 28, 2018 on Kee Street. Williams is facing life in prison if he is convicted.
In the defense’s opening argument, attorney Brandon Austin, who is representing Williams with attorney Joshua Lawson, said that the evidence would show that his client had acted in self defense that day. On the morning of Oct. 28, 2018, Williams and Varney had engaged in a drug transaction. Varney paid with two counterfeit $100 bills.
Later, Williams encountered Varney on Kee Street and they discussed the situation, Austin stated. Varney was “acting aggressive, acting belligerent.”
“Jan Williams wanted his money, but he never thought things would end the way they did,” Austin told the jury.
Evidence would show that Varney was reaching into his waistband as he was turning around, “and that’s when the shots went off,” Austin said. “The evidence will show Jan Williams was defending himself and he genuinely thought Jason Varney was reaching for a weapon. On that unfortunate moment on that unfortunate day, he did not have time to think.”
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Lauren Lynch said in the state’s opening argument the Williams had three hours to consider his actions after being paid for narcotics with counterfeit money.
“He had three hours to contemplate what Jason Varney’s life was worth,” Lynch told the jury. “He had to make an example of Jason Varney...that is never worth a human life. He decided that day that $200 was worth Jason Varney’s life.”
The state’s first witness was Dr. Piotr Kubiczek, first deputy medical examiner with the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. While being questioned by Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler, Kubiczek said that a bullet wound found in Varney’s back was an entrance wound; in most cases, entrance wounds are oval or round. The bullet traveled through his liver, heart, and right lung before lodging in a space between his ribs; it did not exit his body. Varney had a gunshot wound on an elbow as well.
Kubiczek said Varney had tested positive for hydromorphone and cocaine. Sitler asked him if consuming controlled substances was a contributing factor in Varney’s death. Kubiczek replied that it did not. The cause of death was the gunshot wound.
In his cross-examination, Austin asked Kubiczek if he could determine Williams and Varney’s positions by the bullet’s trajectory or how close they were when the shot was fired.
“Can you really give any opinion about where the shooter was in relation to Mr. Varney when this happened and the distance?” Austin said.
Kubiczek said he could not determine these factors.
The case’s investigating officer, Lt. Detective E.T. Pugh of the Princeton Police Department, said he interviewed Williams after he was arrested and signed a Miranda Rights form. Williams told Pugh that he had been firing a .22-caliber rifle earlier at his home on Golden Gate Street.
Lynch asked Pugh if Williams said anything about feeling intimidated or threatened that day, and Pugh said no. When Williams was asked about a counterfeit $100 bill found in his possession, he told police that he found it on Washington Avenue.
Lawson cross-examined Pugh and asked him if drugs were found at the scene. Pugh replied that none were located. Varney’s car was searched and more counterfeit bills were discovered, but no drugs were located there. Pugh said to the best of his knowledge, the bills had the same serial numbers and Chinese markings.
Detective S.M. Severt of the Princeton Police Department testified how he obtained Varney’s clothes. The jury was shown the bloody garment and the bullet hole in the right side of its back.
When Lynch asked Severt to retrace Williams’ path after the shooting, he said that Williams ran through several yards south of Kee Street and to a nearby construction business. The business’s security videos were obtained, and they showed Williams putting a black hooded jacket under model home’s back porch. A 9-mm pistol was found midst some weeds and brush nearby.
Lynch asked if a gun was found at the spot where Varney was shot, and Severt replied that one was not retrieved with his belongings.
Sitler said later that Williams is facing the possibility of life in prison if he is found guilty. If the jury recommends mercy, he could be eligible for parole after serving 15 years of his sentence.
The trial continues today at the Mercer County Courthouse.
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com