A judge in Patrick County Circuit Court on Friday sentenced a Spencer man to a total of 55 years in prison on charges of first-degree murder, grand larceny and concealment of a dead body.
Anthony Octavius Joyce, 37, was charged in the strangulation death of Shelly Dawn Gravely, 34, of South Mayo Drive, Stuart, on Nov. 15, 2014.
At a hearing in April, Judge Jonathan Apgar accepted Joyce’s guilty pleas to first-degree murder, an amended charge of grand larceny and concealment of a dead body. Under a plea agreement, the commonwealth amended a charge of robbery to grand larceny. The plea agreement did not specify what the sentences would be and left that up to Apgar.
Apgar conducted the sentencing hearing Friday.
Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman has said that first-degree murder carries punishment ranging from 20 years in prison to life, concealing a dead body carries punishment of up to five years in prison, and grand larceny carries punishment of up to 20 years in prison.
At the hearing Friday, Vipperman argued that Joyce should receive the maximum sentences for first-degree murder and concealing a dead body.
Vikram Kapil of the Public Defender’s Office argued that Apgar should consider the lesser of two sets of sentencing guidelines (without a weapon vs. with a weapon) when sentencing Joyce, and Apgar agreed.
Ultimately, Apgar said he would give Joyce some credit for pleading guilty, which eliminated the need for a jury trial. Apgar said he felt a jury likely would have given Joyce a life sentence for first-degree murder. However, Apgar felt the sentencing guidelines do not adequately reflect the harm Joyce did. So Apgar sentenced Joyce to 40 years in prison for first-degree murder, 10 years in prison for grand larceny and five years in prison for concealing a dead body – a total of 55 years. Joyce also will have period of post-release supervision.
Gravely and Joyce had been involved in a romantic relationship on and off for about five years. Most recently, Gravely broke up with Joyce on Nov. 14, 2014.
Dr. Jennifer Bowers, assistant chief medical examiner for Virginia, testified that an article of clothing may have been used to strangle Gravely. (An article of clothing was found on her dead body about or near her neck.)
According to Bowers and commonwealth’s evidence, Gravely had injuries including extensive hemorrhaging in her throat area; a cut on her forehead; black eye; small pinpoint hemorrhages under the skin on her right side of her face and both eyes; cut and bruise on her lip and mouth, and bruises, scrapes or contusions on her collar bone, abdomen, arms and legs.
Sarah Reynolds, a friend of Gravely’s, testified that several months before her death that Gravely had a black eye. Reynolds said Gravely told her Joyce had hit her. Kapil contended that was hearsay and that Reynolds did not see that alleged incident herself.
Vipperman also played part of an audio tape from an unrelated case in which Joyce was convicted of misdemeanor assault in Henry County General District Court in 2002, in connection with a 2001 incident.
According to that audio and information Vipperman provided, in that case the woman who was the victim said she was riding in a vehicle with Joyce, that he started to drive past places she didn’t recognize, and she asked where they were going. She said she asked what he wanted, and that he said she knew what he wanted. She said he pulled over and said he was running out of gas, that she got out and tried to run away, but that he grabbed her and threw her into the back seat and then drove away.
Kapil argued that case happened years ago and did not relate to the current cases.
Vipperman also tried to provide evidence about some other charges in connection with the 2001 incident that were dropped, but Kapil objected and Apgar ruled in favor of Kapil.
Vipperman also tried to show video surveillance about a fight in jail that she said Joyce was involved with, but he has not yet been tried. Kapil objected and Apgar ruled in Kapil’s favor.
Mike Bowman, currently chief deputy for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, was a special agent for the Virginia State Police in 2014 and assisted the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office with the investigation of Gravely’s murder. He said he retrieved images and information from Joyce’s phone and that after Gravely’s death Joyce downloaded images where he had researched some unsolved homicides or homicides that took a long time to solve, and that Joyce had visited some pornographic sites and also had some romantic-related emails with women.
Kapil called two witnesses: Chevelle Witcher and Rosemary Howard, both sisters of Joyce.
Witcher testified that Joyce would give people the shirt off his back, that he is not violent, and that as far as she knew, Joyce had a good relationship with Gravely and her children.
Vipperman asked Witcher if she was aware that Joyce and Gravely had had a number of breakups, and Witcher said she was not.
Howard testified that Joyce and Gravely took trips together and that they were kind to her and other relatives. “Shelly loved us,” she said. She added that she feels sorry for her family and for Gravely’s family.
In her closing argument, Vipperman said Joyce has a history of violence, that he is “a huge threat to the community,” and that he brutally beat and strangled Gravely as she fought for her life.
“She saw death coming for at least 30 seconds,” Vipperman said.
According to Bowers’ testimony, the average person has enough blood circulating to stay conscious for an average of 30 seconds when being strangled, and after that, it takes minutes of continued pressure and restriction of the airway and blood flow for a person to die.
Vipperman also argued that Joyce planned the incident; that after strangling her, he did not call 911 or try to resuscitate her; that he cleaned up the crime scene; that he drove her body to a remote location and dumped in a ravine (near a bridge) without even burying it, which she called “deplorable”; and that he lied to law enforcement officers about various aspects of the incident and evidence. She also contended that Joyce has not taken responsibility for his actions and has not shown remorse, among other things.
Kapil argued that the only thing he agreed with Vipperman about was that the actions hurt the two families, friends and the children. He contended the commonwealth tried to introduce unadjudicated acts into the hearing. Kapil said Joyce makes no excuses, takes responsibility for his actions, and is remorseful. “There are no words to describe how much pain he has caused you and how sorry he is to the victim’s family…. He did not wish for this to happen.”
Kapil said Joyce had an up-and-down relationship with Gravely, he felt things were slipping away, he was desperate to find out what was going on, he reacted with anger, and a disaster happened.
Kapil also said Joyce wanted his family to know they had nothing to do with this.