Skip to comments.Gina Hall Murder Case Sets Precedent in Virginia, Helps Prosecutors in the Courtroom
Posted on 04/28/2014 7:20:53 PM PDT by nickcarraway
WDBJ 7 compares the murder investigations of Gina Hall and Alexis Murphy
WDBJ 7 looks into details of Gina Hall murder case
RADFORD, Va. - In a matter of days, Randy Taylor will go to trial in Nelson County for the murder of Alexis Murphy.
The Lovingston teenager disappeared back in August. To this day, the search efforts continue, but she's still missing.
Taylor's trial is set to begin Thursday, but can you convict someone of murder without the body of the victim?
Its happened before and it could happen again.
Virginia's first no-body murder conviction happened in 1980. A student at Radford University went missing and within a matter of weeks someone was charged with her murder.
WDBJ7s Nadine Maeser sat down with the Commonwealth's Attorney assigned to this case, and others familiar with her murder, to see how it changed Virginia law forever.
Everett Shockley is practicing law in Dublin, but 34 years ago he was fresh out of law school, serving as the Commonwealth's Attorney for Pulaski County and had one of Virginia's biggest murder cases on his hands.
"The only thing we were lacking was a body," said Shockley.
Gina Hall was 18-years-old when she went missing on June 20, 1980.
Hall was seen leaving a nightclub in Blacksburg with a man by the name of Stephen Epperly.
The two ended up going to a friend's cabin at Claytor Lake after a night of dancing, and Hall was never seen again.
"We're just assuming that we're going to find the body, said Shockley. You just don't think that the body isn't going to show up somewhere, but we were wrong."
Shockley told WDBJ7 the physical evidence in the Hall murder case was overwhelming. There were blood stains at the cabin and Hall's clothes were found along a railroad trestle near Epperly's house in Radford.
Shockley said they were things that forced investigators to believe Hall had been murdered.
Keith Humphry was a reporter at WDBJ7 at the time Hall went missing. He had been assigned to cover the missing-persons-turned-murder case and said he still remembers thinking Shockley had a difficult task ahead of him in prosecuting Epperly since a body had not been found.
"You would think it would go on for years and it did not, he said.
Humphry said the trial released information and details about the evidence and crime scene that most of the public did not know about.
"You can sort of piece together in your mind though you really wouldn't want to the gruesome nature of this attack, said Humphry. "He pieced it together, built the case on physical evidence and statements and circumstances."
It took six months from the time Hall was reported missing to the moment the jury returned a guilty verdict.
Shockley said people questioned his decision to go to trial, but he said he knew he had to move forward without a body.
"That could be catastrophic in some prosecutions, but in this case, with all the other circumstantial evidence we had, the body really was a big piece, but it wasn't a huge piece of the whole puzzle."
Radford City Police Lieutenant Andy Wilburn wasn't an investigator on the case at the time, but has taken the initiative to reopen it in hopes of finding closure for the family.
"Investigators got the conviction back then and I just felt like it deserved another look, said Wilburn. Fresh eyes."
He said the murder conviction was huge for not only Hall's family, but for law enforcement and the justice system in Virginia.
"I think it gave detectives, officers, Commonwealth's Attorney's, families hope that they know their loved one is dead and now it's a matter of bringing the person responsible and holding them accountable for what happened."
Shockley said he knew the risks he was taking by charging Epperly with murder, but it's proven to be a risk worth taking.
"It gives prosecutors the confidence to know that they can go forward in such a situation and get a conviction if the circumstantial evidence is otherwise good and proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the person is not only deceased but was murdered, said Shockley.
Epperly is serving a life sentence and was recently denied parole.
Shockley said he had more than 90 pieces of evidence and 31 witnesses in Hall's case.
We do know the Commonwealth's Attorney has more than 50 witnesses in the Alexis Murphy case, but no details have been released about the evidence.
Jury selection is set to begin Thursday.
WDBJ7 will be in Nelson County for the trial.
Hi nickcarraway, I hope you are well.
Years ago (35) I heard Mike Turpen, the District Attorney lecture about the first capital case ever tried in Oklahoma with no dead body. He laboriously detailed all the circumstantial evidence he presented, but expressed his concern that there may be some doubt within the jury. He told of the defense lawyer mightily arguing reasonable doubt in his closing argument. Towards the end of his close, the defense lawyer suggested there had been no murder as old Miss Ella was still alive - and she would walk through the rear door to the courtroom in 5 minutes. Five minutes came, and while every juror and prosecuting attorney, and judge were looking at the door, the defense lawyer, looking at his watch, and observing the courtroom, said that Miss Ella would not come through the door. But, he said, that the fact that all were looking at the door was proof that there was a reasonable doubt about her death. He then sat down, and Turpen said that even he began to have doubts. The jury went out. The jury came back with a verdict of guilt.
Turpen asked the jury about the verdict and professed even he had doubt. The juror told him that not everyone had been looking at the door - ol’ John looked at the defendant the entire time. He told the jury that the defendant did not look at the door. The thought was that the defendant knew Miss Ella would not be coming into the courtroom.
Morals of the story:
24 eyes and 24 ears see everything in a courtroom.
Never take actions which will reveal your knowledge.