Slaying affects court cases

Published 8:11 am Friday, April 3, 2009

COURTLAND—Cases involving two defendants in Southampton County Circuit Court have been affected by the slaying of 20-year-old Brandon Keith Turner.

On Thursday in the courtroom of Judge Westbrook J. Parker, the trial of Eric Owen Parker was continued by the prosecution until May 26.

Eric Parker has pleaded not guilty to two felony charges — aggravated malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of malicious wounding — for the May 31, 2008 shooting of Turner at an apartment complex on Oak Trail in Courtland.

Norfolk police arrested Eric Parker, a Franklin resident, on June 3 after a foot chase near Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where Turner was being treated for his wounds.

Turner, who had a Petersburg address, was gunned down at the same Oak Trail complex on March 3. The murder is under investigation by the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office. Police had declined to identify Turner after the May 31 shooting because of concerns for his safety.

Turner was to be a witness for the prosecution in the trial of Darris Lamont Thomas, the man accused in the August 6, 2007 shooting death of 21-year-old Harley Bethea.

Thomas entered guilty pleas to two felony charges, voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm by a felon. He was originally charged with first-degree murder. The prosecution dropped four additional felony charges: three counts of discharging a firearm in public and one count of use of a firearm in the commission of murder.

Bethea was on his way home from a trip to the store when he was struck in the chest by a bullet fired from a large-caliber handgun. He died about 100 feet from his front door.

In court, Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke said Thomas was a Franklin gang leader, and that on the night of the shooting Thomas had argued and fought with two other men. Although Bethea was described as an unintended target, Cooke said Thomas allegedly said in jail that Bethea “was a casualty of war” and “should not have been in the way.”

Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced on June 30.

In other Southampton County Circuit Court cases:

n Brian Paul Engel, a 34-year-old resident of Ivor, entered pleas of not guilty to several felonies. Engel faces seven charges of forcible sodomy, two charges of animate object sexual penetration, and two charges of indecent liberties with a minor. According to court records, the crimes allegedly occurred on June 1, 2004. Engel was arrested on March 13, 2008. Cooke said there were no competency issues. Engel told the judge that he wanted to be tried by the court. A trial date of June 25 has been set.

n Paulette Sumblin pleaded guilty to eight felony counts of credit card theft. Sumblin, a former employee of the S.W. Rawls Sunoco gas station in Courtland, was accused of taking credit card numbers from a journal at the store and using them to make charges of between $20 and $40. It was revealed in court that one of the victims was out of the country when his credit card number was used fraudulently. Sumblin has agreed to pay restitution, the details of which will be available during sentencing, which is scheduled for June 23.