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Trial is set in 2010 case
BG's Express clerk's death
Sunday, February 9, 2014
By AMANDA BUCK ALDERMAN - Bulletin Staff Writer
A weeklong trial for two brothers charged with murder in the death of a local convenience store clerk has been scheduled for August of this year, more than four years after the shooting shocked the community.
Dominique Qumain Hylton, 23, and Montreal Rashawn Kent, 20, have been jailed since their arrests the month after the May 28, 2010, robbery and shooting at BG’s Express #2 in Chatham Heights. Two store employees were shot shortly after midnight that day as three men in bandannas entered the store armed with guns and a stick or club, police have said.
Nirmal Singh, who was 57 and a clerk at the store, died of his injuries.
The Henry County Sheriff’s Office initially charged Hylton and Kent, who are brothers, and a third man, Steven O’Neal Porter, with first-degree murder, malicious wounding, robbery and other charges in connection with the incident.
However, the murder charge against Porter was dropped in December 2011, when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and two related charges as part of an agreement with the prosecution. Porter was sentenced to eight years of active prison time and 57 years suspended.
As part of his plea deal, Porter agreed to testify against Kent and Hylton if called to do so, then-Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell said at that time.
A joint trial for the brothers was scheduled in January 2012, according to previous reports. It has been pushed back several times for various reasons, including the availability of expert witnesses and other issues.
The trial most recently was rescheduled when Andrew Hall, who was representing Hylton, withdrew after he accepted a position as chief deputy to Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Clay Gravely, who took office at the first of the year.
“Obviously, (Hall) cannot be a prosecutor in Martinsville and a private practitioner engaged in the defense of Dominique Hylton at the same time,” Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Nester said last week.
Circuit Court Judge David V. Williams appointed Rocky Mount attorney David Furrow to represent Hylton. The judge then rescheduled the trial — which at that point was set for the last week in January — to allow Furrow time to prepare, Nester said.
The week of Aug. 25 was the first one in which the court, the attorneys and witnesses for all involved would be available, Nester said. The prosecution alone has more than 25 witnesses, he added.
That wasn’t the first time an attorney had left the case. Bushnell was leading the prosecution before he left the commonwealth’s attorney’s office in June to become a juvenile and domestic relations court judge. At that point, Nester took over.
That makes Kent’s attorney, Vikram Kapil of Greensboro, N.C., the only one left who has been involved in the case from the beginning.
“I’m the last one left standing,” Kapil acknowledged Friday.
Kapil said seeing so much time elapse between his client’s arrest in June 2010 and the trial is “always a concern,” but the legal process can be time consuming.
“It takes time,” Kapil said. “Especially with a change in attorneys, the new attorney has to get up to speed and up to date as to the case. ... It’s a sort of situation where the commonwealth and the defense agreed to have this joint trial, so we have to wait.”
“We’re prepared for trial,” Kapil added, “and I know the commonwealth is, too.”
Nester said the delay will have no affect on how he prosecutes the case.
“This is an atypical case,” he said. “Typically you don’t see one that goes this long. (But) we’re going to attack it the same way and prosecute the same way” as he would had the case gone to trial much earlier.
Under Virginia statute, when a person is arrested and continuously incarcerated, he has a right to trial within five months. That time is extended to nine months if the person is released on bond, Nester said.
However, it is common for defendants to waive their right to a speedy trial for various factors, including to give their attorneys adequate time to build a strong case on their behalf.
“It’s just been one thing after another that you just have to continue the case for,” Nester said. “ ... Sometimes there are things completely out of everyone’s control, and there’s nothing you can do but move it to a different day.”
Both Nester and Kapil said they are “hopeful” the August date will hold.
Furrow could not be reached for comment Friday.