VA employee confesses to murdering veteran

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VA employee confesses to murdering veteran

Postby doug » Thu Mar 01, 2012 8:21 pm

Man could face capital murder charge in veterans hospital slaying

By Reed Williams - Richmond Times-Dispatch - March 1, 2012

An employee at a veterans hospital in Richmond has confessed to fatally shooting a patient outside the facility last week and could face a capital murder charge, authorities said Wednesday in federal court.

Cornelius I. Hayes, a housekeeping employee at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, admitted to authorities that he shot James "Stevie" Lee on Feb. 22 in a parking lot outside the hospital, according to testimony Wednesday from FBI Special Agent William Frank Jr.

The victim was shot in the head and left eye on the morning of Feb. 22 and taken to VCU Medical Center, where he died that evening.

Also during Wednesday's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter S. Duffey told Magistrate Judge David J. Novak that authorities anticipate bringing additional charges against Hayes, possibly to include capital murder, before a grand jury this month.

Federal authorities declined to say Wednesday why they might seek a capital charge against Hayes. Under federal law, a wide array of homicides can result in capital charges, including first-degree murder and "murder committed by the use of a firearm during a crime of violence or a drug-trafficking crime."

In federal cases, a U.S. attorney is strongly advised to consult with the U.S. Department of Justice's Capital Case Unit before seeking an indictment for an offense punishable by the death penalty. The attorney general makes the final decision about whether to seek execution.

For now, Hayes faces only a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. In 2001, Hayes was convicted in Richmond of assaulting a law enforcement officer and discharging a gun at an occupied building.

Novak ruled after Wednesday's testimony that authorities had shown probable cause to advance the case, and the judge ordered that Hayes remain in federal custody.

Hayes, 55, lived on the same street in Blackstone as Lee, a 58-year-old Army veteran. Hayes and his live-in girlfriend, who was Lee's first cousin, sometimes would take Lee with them to the VA, where Lee was undergoing cancer treatment, said Lee's daughter, Marttwet Wilson.

Wilson said the girlfriend, like Hayes, works at the VA.

Wilson said Hayes and the girlfriend had broken up the night before the shooting but that she was unaware of any reason why Hayes would hurt Lee.

On the morning of the shooting, the girlfriend had taken Lee to the hospital, where they unexpectedly encountered Hayes in the parking lot, Wilson said.

Frank testified Wednesday that Hayes told authorities on the day of the shooting that he had smoked crack cocaine the night before but that he was "OK now."

Wilson said Lee was shot after Hayes' girlfriend told Hayes that he could come to the home they had shared and pick up his things. After Lee was shot, the girlfriend pleaded with Hayes not to shoot her and he did not, Wilson said.

The girlfriend has declined to comment.

Hayes also admitted that he shot Lee twice and said he believed he had fired three or four shots, Frank testified. Authorities found a gun on Hayes' lap when they stopped his vehicle in Chesterfield County after a 10-minute car chase, Frank said. The .38-caliber five-shot Taurus revolver contained three spent cartridges and two live rounds.

One of Hayes' attorneys, Robert J. Wagner, told the judge Wednesday that Hayes had been injured but was getting better, and his condition on Wednesday appeared to be better than it had been court last week, when Hayes seemed to be in pain as he walked through the courtroom and sat down.

During cross-examination on Wednesday, Wagner asked Frank if the defendant suffered injuries to his shin or thighs as police extracted him from his vehicle after he led Virginia State Police and Hopewell police on the pursuit. Frank said he was unaware of any injuries. He also testified that a Hopewell officer had knocked the revolver off Hayes' lap and apprehended him.

Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane said Wednesday he is unaware of any injury to Hayes and noted that chasing a fugitive believed to be armed and dangerous is "a very difficult situation for us to be in."

Virginia State Police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said he also is unaware of any injury and that state police have received no complaint of an injury to Hayes. Molnar said last week that one of the vehicle's windows had been broken as Hayes was arrested.

Lee's funeral will be held today at noon at Shiloh Baptist Church on South Brown Street in Blackstone.
Douglas McArthur
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The National Veterans Organization of America
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