Witness in Sterling murder recants testimony
The motion to dismiss the charge against Ryan Blaine Williams is based on statements from Venus Chand who was incarcerated with Williams in Alexandria and testified during the trial that Williams confessed to him to killing 30-year-old JoVaughn Johnson. When Chand testified during Williams' trial, he said he was given no promises or money in exchange for his testimony.
Williams' Leesburg-based attorneys, Lindsay Hendrix and Eric J. Demetriades, in a motion filed Oct. 17 in Loudoun County Circuit Court, claim that Chand was purposely placed in a cell with Williams to “mine information” from him on the murder of Johnson.
Johnson was found dead in his car, parked near Great Trail and Trail Run terraces in Sterling, Dec. 27, 2012. He had been shot five times, including in the face. His body wasn’t found for several hours.
The attorneys also claim Chand was promised a deal to reduce his sentence if he cooperated with law enforcement and prosecutors and that a Loudoun County detective destroyed evidence prior to Williams' case going to trial.
The motion alleges that during meetings with Loudoun County Detective C. Cunningham, Chand was given information from the case to help with his testimony against Williams.
“Further, she told Mr. Chand to “be creative” and “imagine what it was like in that car” when describing how the murder occurred.
Chand says during meetings with Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Rosen, he was was given police reports to review “and this is how he was able to find out the street names of the co-defendants in the case.”
The allegations also say that either Cunningham or Rosen showed Chand still shots of surveillance video of Williams from Target so that he could learn what Williams was wearing at the time he shot Johnson.
Case twist and turns
Williams' case took several turns following his February 2013 arrest.
In May 2013, charges against Williams were dismissed during a preliminary hearing due to lack of evidence. In the same hearing a judge bound charges against his co-defendant, Linsey B. Hardwick, 24, of Leesburg, over to the grand jury for indictment.
Hardwick, another key witness in Williams' trial, eventually pleaded guilty to possession of oxycodone and accessory to murder after the fact and was sentenced to one year in prison.
At the time of the crime, Hardwick and Williams were in a romantic relationship.
On Dec. 27, Hardwick drove Williams to Great Trail and Trail Run terraces in Sterling. Williams got out of the car and went into Johnson's Mercedes Benz, where he shot him, according to court testimony.
Hardwick testified she heard three to five shots, though she didn't see the shooting. Cellphone pings placed both Hardwick and Williams near the scene of the crime.
According to court testimony, Williams shot Johnson for “snitching.”
Williams was later directly indicted by a grand jury on Aug. 13, 2013.
History of procedural error
Williams' defense attorneys claim in the motion that the commonwealth's attorney's office and the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office have a history of failing to provide information in Williams' case. They use as an example a Dec. 20 renewed emergency motion to continue a hearing when the commonwealth “failed to provide a significant amount of evidence, discovered by defense counsel only weeks before the trial.”
The motion goes on to say that on May 16, the defense was given four police reports written in January that were alleged to have been “misfiled” in another suspect's file at the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.
Following Williams' conviction, the attorneys say they learned through an agent at the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office that Detective Cunningham took photos of the crime scene with her cellphone and during the investigation deleted the images.
The document also states that subsequent to Williams' trial, Cunningham contacted Chand's mother via text in an effort to convince her to persuade her son to not testify about a letter he had written where he says he was promised a reduced sentence for his cooperation.
“Defense counsel was told that these messages included statements about Mr. Chand being charged with perjury among other specific “negative consequences” that could befall him.”
The motion says those text messages were also deleted from Cunningham's cellphone.
A reduced sentence
A jury on Jan. 30 recommended a 45-year active sentence for Chand, who was being held at the Fairfax County Prison on kidnapping and robbery charges.
On Aug. 2, a judge suspended 10 years of that sentence. According to court documents, Chand's attorney called Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Alejandro Amato as a witness on his client's behalf. Amato testified specifically about Chand's cooperation and assistance in the prosecution of Williams.
On Aug. 7, in a motion to reconsider hearing, attorneys for the commonwealth and the lead detective on different murder case in Fairfax in which Chand was called as a witness, testified on his behalf. Chand's sentence was reduced again by another 10 years.
Prior to Chand's involvement in a kidnapping and robbery in Fairfax, he was arrested in connection with an armed Craigslist scam in Springfield, Ore., according to media reports.
Reports said Chand had advertised a vehicle for sale on Craigslist. Once he met the potential seller, reports said Chand took out a handgun and demanded the victim give him money. The victim gave the suspect the envelope with $4,000 cash that was supposed to be payment for the car.