Three of four felony counts certified to NK grand jury
One felony charge lodged against John Steven Carter, the reputed drug dealer at the center of a botched robbery and fatal shooting in 2008, is off the table. But a New Kent General District Court judge certified three other felonies following a 90-minute preliminary hearing yesterday (Wednesday).
Those charges — possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and two counts of forging a public document — now head to a New Kent Circuit Court grand jury set to convene on Nov. 15. If indictments are handed up, a trial will be scheduled for a later date.
But before those matters proceed, Carter, 58, is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 29 on two other felonies — manufacturing marijuana and marijuana possession with intent to distribute. A grand jury in July indicted the suspect on those charges. Prosecutor Linwood Gregory has requested a jury trial.
Missing from the mix, however, is a charge of illegally disposing of a dead body. Yesterday, Judge Jeffrey Shaw dismissed the count, citing language in Virginia’s version of the law that requires disposal be accompanied by “malicious intent.”
“What does malicious intent mean?” the judge asked, just before granting defense attorney Tim Clancy’s motion to strike the charge.
Afterward, Gregory said he has no plans to revive the felony body disposal charge by seeking a direct indictment.
“I don’t think I could prove it the way the statute is written. How do you prove malice?” he said.
He could, however, press forward on a misdemeanor version, he said. And he added he is undecided about requesting a jury trial.
During yesterday’s hearing, Carter’s past and present legal problems came to the forefront as Gregory produced witnesses who could, as the prosecutor put it, “prove who Carter is.”
Topping the list: W. David Altman Jr., the former state ABC agent who Carter attempted to have killed in 1982. Back then, Altman was the key witness in drug proceedings against Carter and the defendant’s wife. Carter hatched a scheme with Robert D. Praml, a Fort Eustis soldier, and a friend, William J. Benton Jr., to steal a M-16 rifle from the Army base and use the weapon to shoot Altman as the agent arrived at New Kent court to testify.
The plot, however, was uncovered and the conspirators arrested and convicted. Carter served four years of a seven-year prison sentence for possessing a machine gun and conspiring to murder a police officer.
In court yesterday, Altman revealed he heard from Carter in 1986, soon after the defendant’s release from prison. Carter, he said, asked for a meeting. Altman reluctantly agreed, but arranged a secure location inside Williamsburg jail where a 15 to 20-minute conversation took place.
“[Carter] said he’d been born again and wanted to meet with me and apologize for what happened,” Altman told the court.
When questioned by Clancy concerning his memory of Carter from almost 30 years ago, Altman said he had no problem identifying the suspect.
“I remember Mr. Carter hiring someone to kill me,” Altman replied.
Another witness, Carrie Christine Davis, confirmed that Carter rented the house at 15600 Pocahontas Trail in Lanexa where Christopher Greene, 18, was shot to death the night of Oct. 14, 2008. Davis’ father, Woodrow Hockaday, owns the property, and Davis often met with Carter to collect rent. He always paid in cash, she said.
Kodie Lee Tyler, one of the three Williamsburg-area teens accompanying Greene that night on a quest to steal marijuana, testified he heard two gunshots, saw muzzle fire emanating from inside Carter’s rental house, and watched Greene collapse. Tyler and the other two teens fled.
Greene carried a modified shotgun, thus investigators say Carter acted in self-defense. The teen died from gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen fired from what investigators believe to be a .357 handgun. His body was found the next day, concealed by a tarp in a woodpile behind the house.
Testimony from William Brent Ford, a tow truck driver who routinely visited the house and worked on two Cadillacs parked in Carter’s yard, proved crucial toward certifying the firearm possession charge.
Ford told the court he saw what appeared to be a .357 revolver on one visit to the house. Then he said the night of the shooting, he received a cell phone call from Carter.
“He asked me to come up there,” Ford said. “He said he shot somebody that tried to break in his house and had a shotgun.”
Ford declined the invitation. The next morning, he said, he received another call from Carter.
“He said he wanted to know what time I was coming out. He said he needed help moving trash,” Ford said, adding it was the last time he heard from Carter.
That morning, authorities discovered Greene’s body, and by then Carter had disappeared. He remained on the run until March 18, 2009 when he was arrested in a small town in southern Alabama.
The two forgery charges stem from Carter allegedly signing Benton’s name on a pair of traffic summonses on Nov. 28, 2006. Benton died in 1993, and apparently Carter was living on the deceased friend’s identity. The defendant had rented the Lanexa house in Benton’s name, Davis testified.
New Kent Detective Joey McLaughlin, who was a road deputy in 2006, issued Carter, a.k.a Benton, the summonses for driving suspended and failure to obtain registration. The Cadillac driven by Carter that day had no license plates. Carter, meanwhile, handed the deputy one of Benton’s photo ID cards. The two men looked remarkably the same, McLaughlin said.
The traffic stop occurred in the driveway to Carter’s house. Invited inside while Carter searched for more ID to prove he resided there, McLaughlin and another deputy detected marijuana odor. Carter readily admitted to smoking the drug, but the deputies found only a trace amount along with cigarette paper and disposed of the items.
After the 2008 shooting, investigators discovered a hidden grow room in the house where they seized 348 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of over $1 million. The evidence is the basis for the two marijuana charges set for trial on Oct. 29.
If convicted, Carter faces from five to 30 years on each marijuana count, two to 10 years on each forgery charge, and a mandatory two years and up to five for firearm possession. The defendant is already serving 10 years from August 2009 convictions on federal drug and weapon charges in Florida.
“If we get convictions in New Kent, I expect he’ll finish serving his federal time and then come back here and serve his time,” Gregory said.
Carter already has 90 days to serve and a $200 fine to pay. Yesterday, Shaw found the defendant guilty of giving false identification to a police officer. Clancy, meanwhile, has already noted an appeal.