Gregory acquitted of murder

Posted: April 18, 2013

The Winchester Star

David Scott Gregory

WINCHESTER — A Frederick County jury acquitted Bradley Scott Gregory of murder Wednesday and instead convicted him on a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Gregory, 28, of Winchester, was charged with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a murder after shooting Michael Scott Shirley in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2012.

The jury — which deliberated for about 31/2 hours — found him not guilty on the use of a firearm in the commission of a murder charge.

Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional act done without malice or premeditation and while in the heat of passion or on sudden provocation. A Class 5 felony, it is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.

The jury later recommended Gregory serve eight years in prison.

A sentencing hearing before Judge Clifford “Clay” Athey was set for 9 a.m. June 7, and a presentence report was ordered.

Gregory’s bond was revoked immediately following the three-day trial, despite an objection from public defender Timothy Coyne. He had been on home electronic monitoring since January 2012.

“He’s now a convicted felon,” Athey said of revoking his bond.

Gregory was arrested and charged in Shirley’s death after Frederick County sheriff’s deputies responded in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2012, to a 911 call about a person being shot at 1373 S. Timber Ridge Road, near the West Virginia border.

During the trial, which took place in Frederick County Circuit Court, several witnesses testified that the two men — who were both highly intoxicated — had been arguing about a comment Gregory made about Shirley’s girlfriend having a crush on him a long time ago.

The argument ended with Gregory shooting Shirley from his truck.

Emotions ran high in the courtroom Wednesday following the jury’s sentence recommendation, with family members of both Gregory and the victim crying.

Gregory’s family declined to comment about the trial.

Angie Pearrell, Shirley’s sister, tried to comment, but was overcome with emotion and couldn’t.

Her husband, Craig Pearrell, said he believed that if there were more character witnesses for Shirley, “maybe it would have played differently.”

“Michael got made out to be this horrific person,” he said. “[The] 12 people in the jury never got to see the person that was always there to help, the person that was always there to lend a hand, the person that was always there for his kids.”

He added that the tragedy of the situation is that three small children — one of whom he and his wife are now guardians of — will grow up without a dad.

“For the family, it’s a huge loss, it’s something that time [will never help us] get over,” he said. “No this isn’t closure, because from this day forward, every holiday, every birthday, every day, [the Shirley family has] to live with that.”

Assistant commonwealth’s attorney Andrew Robbins used that emotion in closing statements prior to sentencing deliberations to ask the jury to sentence Gregory to the maximum of 10 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.

“It’s about fairness,” he said. “These folks are going to suffer the absence of Michael Shirley for the rest of their lives, is it fair that [Gregory] suffer that absence for 10 years?”

Coyne asked jurors to sentence Gregory on the lower end of the range, suggesting one year in prison.

He said that the jury’s job was to render punishment, not try and make up for the loss of Shirley’s life.

Pointing out that Gregory has no prior criminal record and has lost the ability to ever be a volunteer firefighter again — something he loves and has done for the last 11 years — Coyne said there is no question his life will change.

“This is the man who has the ability to do the right thing in the future, and who will,” he said.

Gregory — who took the stand when Coyne presented evidence during the sentencing phase of trial — testified that he constantly thinks about what he could have and should have done the night he killed Shirley.

“I truly feel horrible,” he said. “I lie awake at night thinking about what happened that night. It haunts me and I feel that it always will.”

He apologized to the Shirley family.

“I can’t express it enough, there’s no way to express it enough,” he said. “I’ve known them all for years. You’ll never know how sorry I am.”

Craig Pearrell testified as a witness for the prosecution about what the Shirley family has gone through since his death.

“Has it been a big tragedy?” he asked. “Yes, and every New Year’s Eve we have to be reminded. Ringing in the new year will never be the same.”

He said that one of Shirley’s sons still has nightmares that began about two weeks after the death, and claims that he sees his dad in them.

Shirley’s mother has been hospitalized three times since her son’s death, is on several medications, undergoing grief counseling and has not worked at her job since, despite being asked numerous times to come back, Pearrell testified.

He added that his wife suffers from depression and panic attacks and both she and Shirley’s father are on medication for depression.

Pearrell got emotional on the stand when he mentioned Jennifer Staub — Shirley’s girlfriend and mother of two of his children — and how she has to answer why their dad is not around.

Earlier in the day, Coyne and Spicer delivered closing arguments on whether Gregory would be convicted of first-degree murder, a lesser charge or be found not guilty.

“Alcohol and firearms are a deadly combination,” Spicer said. “On Dec. 31, 2011, the defendant decided to be in possession of a firearm when he was drunk.”

He added that Gregory “drank and he drank and he drank” but was still of clear enough mind to later reach for his gun, load it, point it out the window and shoot.

“Those things that he did in the truck show reflection and deliberation,” he said.

Spicer urged jurors to refrain from considering evidence about several violent offense investigations into Shirley’s past, stating that if Gregory was innocent until proven guilty, Shirley should be too.

“Do not allow Mr. Shirley’s conduct in the past to cloud your judgment,” he said. “Michael Shirley deserved not to die that night.”

Coyne, in his closing argument, recapped the evidence the jury had been presented with over the previous two days.

“The evidence is clear in this case that Bradley Gregory never intended for Michael Shirley to die,” he said.

Coyne said that Shirley was angry that night and even though it may not have been what he or people in the jury would have done, Gregory acted in self-defense.

“This was not first-degree murder, this was not second-degree murder, this was not murder in any sense of the word,” he said. “You have to look at the circumstances as they appeared to Mr. Gregory that night.”

Though Gregory was acquitted of murder, Spicer said that he was pleased with the verdict — specifically that by convicting him of voluntary manslaughter, the jury believed Gregory intentionally shot and killed Shirley

“They clearly did not believe his claim that it was by accident or self-defense,” he said. “We respect the jury’s findings and hope that this will bring some closure for the Shirley family.”

Coyne did not comment following the trial, but said that he would be preparing a motion to set aside the jury’s verdict.

He also said he only was able to speak with Gregory briefly before he was taken to the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, and couldn’t say how he was feeling about the verdict and sentence recommendation.

The two also have not discussed whether or not they will appeal.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com