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Posted April 17, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Jury finds man guilty of voluntary manslaughter

By Joe Beck

A Frederick County Circuit Court jury convicted a Winchester man Wednesday of voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a West Virginia man in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2012.

The jury also recommended that the defendant, Bradley Scott Gregory, 28, be sentenced to eight years in prison.

The jury also found Gregory not guilty of a related firearms charge.

Gregory was on trial for first degree murder, but the jury had the options of also finding him guilty of second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or not guilty of any offense.

Commonwealth's Attorney Ross Spicer said the jury took about 3 1/2 hours to reach the verdict and about 45 minutes to make its sentencing recommendation in a separate deliberation.

Circuit Judge Clifford L. "Clay" Athey Jr. scheduled a hearing for June 7 where he will have the option of imposing a lesser sentence than the jury but may not exceed its eight-year recommendation.

Spicer said Gregory had been free on bail, but Athey revoked the bail at the conclusion of the trial, and the defendant is now in jail.

In closing arguments Wednesday, attorneys from both sides agreed that Gregory fired a single fatal shot into the chest of the victim, Michael Scott Shirley of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., during a New Year's Eve party at 1373 S. Timber Ridge Road.

"We end up the observation that is so apparent," Spicer told the jury. "Alcohol and firearms are a deadly combination."

Spicer said Gregory set out at 6:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve with a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey before arriving at the party.

"He drank, and he drank, and he drank," Spicer said, adding later that Gregory was still sober enough to think through what he was doing when he fired the gun. Gregory shot from his pickup truck as Shirley approached the vehicle on foot, according to the prosecution and the defense.

Spicer and Gregory's attorney, public defender Timothy Coyne, recounted testimony during the three-day trial from witnesses who described an argument that broke out between the two men after Gregory directed a comment to a woman described as Shirley's girlfriend.

Coyne said the comment was "crude, offensive, inappropriate" and ignited Shirley's temper.

"He became irate, he became enraged, and I would submit to you he never calmed down," Coyne told the jury.

The trial revolved around whether Gregory could plausibly claim he acted in self-defense when he fired at Shirley, a man who was investigated for several violent offenses in West Virginia, according to Coyne and Spicer.

Coyne argued that Shirley approached Gregory's pickup truck with clenched fists and a reputation for violence that led the defendant to fire out of fear for his safety.

"He was moving toward the vehicle in an angry fashion ready to do great harm to Mr. Gregory as he sat in the truck," Coyne said.

"He fired the shot not intending to kill Mr. Shirley but trying to get him away from him," Coyne said of his client.

Spicer urged the jury to disregard any testimony linking Shirley to past violence and reminded them of the criminal justice principle that a defendant is considered innocent until proved guilty.

"That presumption must follow Mr. Shirley," Spicer said.

Spicer told the jurors that testimony showing Gregory regretted pulling the trigger should not be a factor in their deliberations.

"I don't think there's any question that he was sorry afterward, but sorry afterward doesn't cut it," Spicer said.

In an interview after the trial, Spicer said he was content with the jury's verdict.

"It was gratifying to know by their verdict that the jury believes the defendant killed Michael Shirley," Spicer said. "They clearly did not believe his claim that the shooting was by accident or self-defense.

"Although they did not convict him of the more serious first degree murder charge, the commonwealth is satisfied they considered the evidence and came up with an appropriate verdict."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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