Mervin convicted of murder

Published 10:43 am Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Montai Maurice Mervin, 23, of Hardeeville, South Carolina, was convicted on Tuesday, May 21, of first-degree murder after a two-day trial before new Circuit Court Judge J. William Watson. Mervin was also convicted of use of a firearm during the commission of murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted violent felon in the shooting of 22-year-old Bryant Andre Craig of Lunenburg County that occurred Sept. 15, 2018, according to a release from the Lunenburg County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office.

Mervin will be sentenced Aug. 5 after preparation of a presentence report. He is facing life in prison as the maximum sentence by statute. Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Clement praised his assistant, Baxter Stegall, as the lead prosecutor in the trial as well as the Lunenburg Sheriff’s Office for the intensive effort in gathering evidence, interviewing the defendant and witnesses, and testifying in court, according to the release.

Stegall called 20 witnesses and submitted 67 exhibits to prove that the shooting with an assault rifle with four shots to the chest was a premeditated killing, and not self-defense or a lesser-included offense as claimed by the defense.

The murder weapon, a Chinese-made SKS assault rifle, was located by SCUBA divers from the Virginia State Police Search and Rescue Team only a week before trial. Divers recovered it in approximately 10 feet of water from the Nottoway River at the Jonesboro Bridge.

Six witnesses from the scene testified that there had been a barbecue and birthday party at a home in the 800 block of Sugar Hill Road, outside of Kenbridge, on the evening of Sept. 15. Mervin, who said he was a friend with the victim, known as Dre arrived early that evening. According to witnesses, he began showing off an SKS rifle he had brought. He pulled the rifle from his trunk, and displayed it. James Marshall, who lives at the home and hosted the party, testified that he admonished Mervin to put the rifle away because there were children present.

Taylor Vanderpool, who had been dating the victim at the time, testified that she had seen Mervin pull the rifle out of his trunk when he arrived. She testified that the defendant and the victim had weeks or months before made a bet about a firearm that Dre had owned, and that the defendant had lost the bet.

She testified that the victim and defendant seemed to be on good terms with each other, and went with each other to the store to buy more beer, according to the release. Her initial concerns about the outstanding bet were set aside when the Dre assured her that everything was OK.

Vanderpool and two others testified that later that evening close to midnight, they had seen Dre put his nine-millimeter pistol either in or on top of his car and was then unarmed, according to the release. People then noticed that the defendant still had his rifle in his hand as he walked around the party. James Marshall, now seated in a car in the yard, yelled for the defendant to put the gun away. Dre, Marvell Garland, and Vanderpool approached the defendant to tell him to put it away.

Witnesses testified that Marvell Garland got loud, asking why Mervin still had his gun out. Dre pushed Garland back and told him to calm down, that he would handle it, the release cited. Dre approached with arms raised, and asked the defendant why he still had the gun out. Vanderpool, who was standing next to the victim, testified that the defendant began to back up and threatened to shoot if they didn’t stop coming toward him. She testified that the defendant raised the rifle up, pointing it at her, at Garland, and at the victim one at a time. She testified that the defendant again threatened to shoot, saying “I’ll pop y’all [expletive] if you don’t back up.”

She said Dre stopped and still had his hands in the air. Vanderpool testified that she heard three gunshots, and the “sky lit up.” (The Medical Examiner determined that there were four gunshot wounds, and that any one of three of them would have been fatal).

Vanderpool said she watched as the victim fell to the ground, bleeding profusely from the gunshot wounds to the chest. She knelt at the victim’s side, and saw blood all over him. She then saw Mervin run toward his car, still holding the rifle, and watched him drive across the grass of the front yard toward Sugar Hill Road. She rushed Dre to the hospital in South Hill, but he had died from the injuries.

The other eyewitnesses testified similarly, according to the release, although the defense attorney assertively attacked any prior inconsistent statements they had made for impeachment purposes. He also emphasized that most of the eyewitnesses were cousins to some degree of the victim and that Vanderpool was a girlfriend.

After the Sheriff’s Office was notified, an All-Points Bulletin (APB) was put out to Brunswick and Mecklenburg counties describing the white Cadillac with the South Carolina tags. Alberta Officer Michael Brown saw the car on Route 46 and stopped it near the entrance ramp to Interstate 85. Mervin pulled over, but as Brown got out of the car to approach, Mervin took off and went onto I-85 toward South Hill, reaching speeds of more than 110 miles per hour.

As Brown gave chase, South Hill police and state troopers joined the chase. He took an exit into South Hill, continued to speed, and eventually stopped at a residence where he said his baby lived with its mother.

He submitted to arrest and denied knowing anything about a killing. His interview at the Lunenburg Sheriff’s Office by Deputy Bruneau and Currin locked him into his denial despite the eyewitnesses’ accounts. Three days later in another interview with Major D.R. Penland and Investigator Gail Berkley, he finally admitted to shooting, but claimed it was self-defense since he feared that the persons approaching him would attack him. He claimed he didn’t stop for police because he had liquor in his car. Mervin testified at the trial with the same claims as in his second interview.

The rifle had not been found, and Mervin said he had dropped it at the scene of the crime. It wasn’t until Prosecutor Stegall was looking at a map with Deputy Chris Wallace about possible routes the defendant could have taken to get to Route 46 that Stegall suggested getting a diving team to search the river at Jonesboro Bridge on the Nottoway-Brunswick line.

Troopers J.N. Rivera and A.S. Trombley, who are divers with the state Search and Rescue Team, found the gun after a day and a half of searching. Mervin denied that he threw the gun into the river.

Deputies also recovered four spent casings and two unfired cartridges of 7.62×39 millimeters (mm), which are the type used in the rifle. They also found one of the same type of unfired bullets in the spare tire wheel well of Mervin’s car, and one unfired still in the rifle. All of them were the same brand.

Mervin had a prior felony conviction of forcible abduction in Hampton in 2016 and a misdemeanor of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in 2016 in Lunenburg. He lived in Victoria for a short period of time on Mecklenburg Avenue.