Guilty verdict in Powhatan murder trial

By Tara Morgan - bio | email
Posted by Shawn Maclauchlan

POWHATAN, VA (WWBT) - A Powhatan jury has found 20-year-old Dennis Merchant, Jr. guilty of second degree murder in the stabbing death of Rashad Brown, last May.

Merchant will be formally sentenced April 12: 18 years for second degree murder; one year for unlawful cutting of Brown; one year for unlawful cutting of Shawn Johnson, the second victim in this case.

Security was tight in the courtroom - sheriff's deputies and state troopers lined the isles as the sentence was read aloud.

The defense argued that this was a double tragedy, that unusual circumstances brought the two young men together on May 13, 2010 and it was unfortunate.

According to published reports, Merchant's attorney argued his client acted in self defense when Merchant went to Rashad Brown's home on Bell Road to collect a $400 drug debt, where he was attacked by a group of people who thought Merchant was a snitch.

But the Commonwealth disputed that, saying the assault was a malicious overreaction and that Merchant was uninvited and asked to leave the home. Testimony revealed Brown was stabbed five times.

Another victim drove him to the post office on Anderson Highway for help.

Brown's mom, Lolita Bell, testified during sentencing. She cried uncontrollably as she told jurors Brown was her only son.  Brown was also a young father - his daughter turned one four days before he was stabbed to death.

The jury deliberated for about eight hours and reached its verdict just before 11 p.m. Wednesday evening.

When the verdict was read, Merchant cried uncontrollably. He held his face in his hands, sobbing.

Since there is no parole in Virginia, he will be 40 years old when he gets out of prison.

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