Prosecutors have offered to lower the murder charge against a 21-year-old D.C. man arrested in February for allegedly stabbing his 72-year-old former roommate, Howard Venable, to death in exchange for a guilty plea.
At a May 8 status hearing in D.C. Superior Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Holly Schick, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the government would lower the charge against David Jamal Wilson from second-degree murder while armed to voluntary manslaughter while armed if Wilson agrees to a guilty plea by May 31.
Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. scheduled another hearing for May 31, at which time Wilson is expected to disclose through his attorney whether he accepts the offer.
A D.C. police homicide detective testified at a Feb. 20 preliminary hearing that the murder took place a few days after Wilson moved out of the apartment and on the same day Wilson and Venable exchanged text messages arranging for Wilson to return to the apartment to engage in sex with Venable.
According to Det. King Watts, the two men had a longstanding arrangement in which Venable paid Wilson for sex every two weeks. Watts testified that Wilson and another witness whom police haven’t identified told police about the sex for money arrangement.
The Feb. 20 hearing took a dramatic turn when Wilson’s court-appointed attorney, Jacqueline Cadman, told the court that Venable and Wilson had been in a longstanding “abusive” sexual relationship since Wilson was a “child.”
Cadman introduced a motion calling for the charge against Wilson to be lowered to manslaughter because of the alleged abuse. But Judge Stuart Nash, who presided over the case at that time, denied the motion, court records show.
Court records show that on April 25 Wilson dismissed Cadman as his attorney and retained a new attorney, James W. Beane, who represented him at the May 10 hearing.
A D.C. police affidavit filed in court at the time of Wilson’s arrest in February says Venable’s body was found lying face down in a pool of blood on the floor of his one-bedroom apartment at 1630 Fuller St., N.W., in a building known as the Mozart.
The affidavit says an autopsy found “multiple slashing wounds” on Venable’s neck, minor cuts on both hands “consistent with defensive wounds,” and two stab wounds to his upper torso, one of which struck his aorta.
According to the affidavit, police discovered Wilson used bank cards he allegedly stole from Venable’s apartment to withdraw more than $600 in cash from ATMs in District Heights, Md., on the night of the murder.
Detectives found Wilson at a residence in District Heights on Feb. 3, and Wilson agreed to go with the detectives to the homicide branch offices in Southwest D.C. to undergo questioning about the case, the affidavit says.
It says he gave “numerous inconsistent accounts” of his involvement in the murder, including an account that unknown intruders stabbed Venable. In one version, Wilson said Venable threatened him with a kitchen knife and the two argued and he and Venable struggled over the knife. Wilson told detectives Venable fell on the knife during the struggle and stabbed himself, the affidavit says.
The autopsy, however, found that the nature of Venable’s multiple wounds confirms that he could not have stabbed himself and that the manor of death was murder.
Court records show that Wilson had at least two encounters with police and the courts prior to his arrest for Venable’s murder.
In August 2012 he and two other men were charged with armed robbery for allegedly stealing a bicycle from another man at knifepoint in Meridian Hill Park. The charge was dropped after the victim, who was to be the lead witness, failed to show up at the trial.
In July 2011, court records show Wilson’s wife filed papers seeking a civil protection order against him after he allegedly assaulted her in the apartment where the two lived with their two children.
At the Feb. 20 court hearing, then defense attorney Cadman said Wilson’s wife was in the courtroom to show her support for him and favored a defense motion to release Wilson on bond. Judge Nash denied the motion, ordering Wilson to remain in custody.
Members of the D.C. group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) have complained in the past that the U.S. Attorney’s office has unnecessarily lowered charges against defendants charged with acts of anti-LGBT violence. A GLOV spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the offer by the U.S. Attorney’s office to lower the change against Wilson.
D.C. attorney Dale Edwin Sanders, who represents clients in criminal cases, said concern about possible complications at a jury trial over the sexual relationship between Venable and Wilson may have prompted prosecutors to issue the plea bargain offer.
But Sanders said he doesn’t think reducing the charge would make a significant difference in the sentence Wilson would receive if Wilson accepts the offer.
He noted that second-degree murder while armed carries a maximum sentence of life in prison compared to a 30-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter while armed. However, Sanders said the voluntary sentencing guidelines that most judges follow would likely provide a range of sentences that overlap between second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
“I’m sure the guidelines would not call for life in prison on the Murder II charge,” Sanders said. “So the functional difference between the two would probably be modest if any … The issue is they aren’t giving anything away. They just have a different label on it but essentially he would be pleading guilty to a homicide.”
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that Howard Venable was 72 at the time of his death. D.C. police initially reported that Venable was 68 in a press release in February at the time of the murder and the Blade reported that age before new information surfaced that he was 72.