DANVILLE — In a hearing that lasted less than three minutes, Danville Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Newman dismissed a second-degree murder charge against a suspect because a grand jury indicted him on a first-degree murder and several related firearms charges on Monday.
Ladarius Tomas Jeffries, 29, of Danville, is being tried in connection with the March 4 homicide of 40-year-old Melvin Wayne Smith, who was found shot to death and laying in the yard of his Summit Road home. He had been shot multiple times and was pronounced dead at the scene.
During the Wednesday morning hearing, Newman explained the changes and what charges will be coming. His second-degree murder charge was housed in Danville General District Court, but the new charges that were certified by a grand jury will be in circuit court.
According to Virginia law, first-degree murder is any “willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing.”
“There’s no valid objection I could make to this,” defense attorney Joseph Sanzone said in court on Wednesday morning.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Jeffries was brought into the courtroom, where he stood silently through the short proceeding before being led back out.
No details surrounding the shooting were explained in court, and Newman declined to answer the Register & Bee’s questions about the motive or connection between the two men.
“Will not comment on specifics of a pending case,” he wrote in an email to the Register & Bee.
Police reported after the shooting that “the preliminary information is that this was not a random act.”
Newman did say in court that his discovery is prepared. Discovery is where the prosecution turns over information relevant to the defense.
Jeffries was arrested the day after the homicide on an outstanding probation violation, but authorities did not release his name in connection with the homicide until April 8. Danville Police Department spokesperson Richard Chivvis said doing that allowed the police department and the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, both of which have been working together closely on this investigation, more time to investigate.
“It still gave the investigators additional time to work through evidence and continue to work the case without actually having to make a homicide charge,” he said.
The full list of charges includes first-degree murder, use of a firearm in commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a felon and shooting from a vehicle.