A Laurel man was found guilty of second-degree assault and recommended to serve five years in jail for an April 21, 2019 stabbing incident.
Charles Ray Vanover, 26, of Vaughn Ridge Road in London, has remained incarcerated since his arrest following a fight that left another man severely injured.
It took the four-woman, eight-man jury just over 90 minutes to reach the verdict, having choices of finding Vanover not guilty, guilty of first-degree assault - the charge for which he was originally indicted, or several choices of second-degree assault under specific instructions.
Vanover's attorney, Daniel Thompson of Somerset, argued that the incident was one of self-defense on that fateful night in which Vanover and Nick Napier became involved in an argument. That incident took place at the home of Vanover's half sister on Vaughn Ridge Road and occurred after an evening of drinking alcohol. Vanover maintained that he and Napier had argued and that Napier had shoved him against the wall while threatening to hurt him.
"This case is about tunnel vision," Thompson told jurors. "This happened after about 10 hours of drinking and the right of self defense."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Terry Beckner countered that claim, stating that even after the homeowner pulled the two men apart that Vanover continued to threaten Napier, stating, "You're gonna die tonight."
Witnesses at the scene when the fight broke out clarified that there had been two 30-packs of beer at the residence and that all three of the men had been drinking. The gathering had begun around 8 p.m., with Napier arriving a bit later. The two residents had gone to bed around 5:30 a.m. with Vanover's girlfriend lying on the living room couch.
Vanover admitted that the argument between he and Napier began when he told Napier that his girlfriend was not good for him while the two were standing in the kitchen area of the home. Napier testified that Vanover had called the woman obscene names, which angered him. Vanover said after Napier became upset, he went over to him and touched his shoulder in an effort to apologize. Vanover said Napier punched him in the nose and shoved him.
That led to a physical altercation, at which time Vanover pulled a knife from his pocket and slashed Napier across the face and the two men struggled. Witnesses testified that Vanover was on top of Napier and that the homeowner pulled the two men apart.
Again, the two continued to argue, according to witnesses' testimony, with Napier being flown out to the University of Kentucky Medical Center for treatment of several stab wounds and a collapsed lung. Vanover, who had also sustained a slash to his neck, went to a local hospital for treatment. Napier, on the other hand, remained in the Intensive Care Unit at the Lexington hospital for two days and remained hospitalized for five days before being released. Napier said he had wounds to his head and neck, including one wound in his head that still bleeds and will require surgery. Those injuries required Napier to remain off work for approximately two months and that he suffers from short term memory loss due to the injuries to his head.
Vanover said he pulled the knife to protect himself against Napier, who is a correctional officer at a federal prison.
"He told me if I ever said anything else about his girlfriend, he would kill me. He's a correctional officer and he's trained to defend himself," Vanover said. "I was scared."
But Beckner countered Vanover's story, outlining how Vanover had refused representation by three court-appointed attorneys before hiring Thompson to represent him.
"You were still intoxicated and wouldn't give a statement," Beckner said. "In your first testimony, you said you insulted Nick's girlfriend, you went over the line."
"I had a right to be where I was, and I have the right to defend myself," Vanover replied.
Beckner again rebuked Vanover's testimony during closing arguments of the two-day trial that began on Thursday and picked up on Monday.
"Who had the motive?" Thompson questioned jurors. "You heard Charlie (Vanover) say that even after the fight broke up, Nick kept telling him that he was going to kill him. So there are two things I want you to remember. One, that Nick had more than two or three beers as he said, and two, Nick was not going around Charlie to go to bed."
Beckner countered Vanover's testimony again.
"Charlie told Nick repeatedly that he was 'gonna die tonight.' And the facts of the case are that Charlie was the only one with a weapon and he was the only one causing injuries to Nick, with the knife deliberately being used to cut Nick," he said. "Nick had knife wounds to his neck and head that he showed you. He was taken to Lexington with homeostatic shock from blood loss and a collapsed lung. The evidence shows that his is not self defense."
After returning the guilty verdict, jurors were then instructed on the penalty phase. Under Kentucky law, the penalty for second-degree assault ranges from 5 to 10 years. After only 15 minutes of deliberation, jurors came back with a recommended sentence of 5 years. Steven Thompson with the Probation and Parole testified that the service time for a five-year sentence is 12 months before eligibility of parole, adding that parole is not always granted at the first time of eligibility.
Vanover has already been incarcerated for nearly 17 months.
Laurel Circuit Judge Greg Lay presided over the trial, thanking jurors for their patience especially since they had to wear masks and maintain six feet social distancing throughout the trial.
"I can count the number of trials that have been held (since COVID-19 restrictions) on one hand," he said, holding his hand up to jurors. "This is very important work you've done here."