Prisoner’s jail cry may be used in Radford murder trial, judge says

RADFORD — Andrew Jonathan Byrd’s cry that he had killed someone, uttered during a fight with officers at New River Valley Regional Jail, may be used as evidence when he stands trial for murder and a host of other offences, a judge ruled Friday.

And Byrd, 36, will only get one or two trials, not the five requested by the public defender’s office, the judge said.


Radford Police Department

Judge Joey Showalter’s rulings came during a motions hearing in Radford Circuit Court that lasted more than three hours. A motorcade of witnesses has released more details about the charges against Byrd – that during a meth-fueled day and night in 2020, he fatally beat 2-year-old Harper Mitchell; and strangled and beat his mother, Amanda Mitchell, to prevent her from seeking help for the child.

Friday’s hearing brought the first courtroom testimony about an incident that occurred on May 5, 2020, about three weeks after Byrd’s arrest. Held in New River Valley Regional Jail, Byrd refused to come out of his bunk for a court appearance via video and five corrections officers dragged him from his cell while a sixth recorded the incident on video , officers testified.

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Byrd started screaming as the officers grabbed him. Video of the encounter, played in court, caught Byrd repeatedly shouting, “I did it,” then “I did it, really, I killed her!”

The recording also captured Major Keith Fleeman, who was taking the video, asking Byrd who he was referring to. Byrd’s response was indistinct, and Fleeman and the attorneys said Friday they could not understand what Byrd said.

Byrd’s defense team, public defender Lindsay Phipps and Kim Sharp, who works in Phipps’ office in Pulaski, argued that all of Byrd’s shouting should be excluded from evidence. They said the officers’ handling of the detainee amounted to unlawful questioning without his lawyers present. No one had read Byrd his rights in Miranda, which include the right to have an attorney present, before officers entered the cell, Phipps noted.

Commonwealth lawyer Chris Rehak called the outburst a spontaneous statement and said there were no plans to question Byrd so there was no need to advise him on Miranda’s rights. He did, however, acknowledge that asking Byrd who he was referring to might have crossed a line.

Showalter said that after watching the video, he was satisfied that the officers acted correctly in removing Byrd from his cell and that Byrd freely gave his statement about killing someone. This statement can be used as evidence, Showalter said.

But the judge said asking Byrd who he was talking about was going too far. Showalter said that question and its unintelligible answer could not be presented at trial.

Byrd, whose middle name was spelled variously in court and prison records and police statements, was arrested on April 17, 2020, after a SWAT team entered the home Byrd and Mitchell shared at the 109 Ninth Street.

Rehak said the day before, after Byrd took Amanda Harper to her patient access job at Carilion New River Valley Medical Center around 3 p.m. and before he picked her up at the end of her eight-hour shift later, Harper was beaten “like a human piñata.”

Amanda Mitchell testified that when Byrd picked her up, Harper was in a car seat in the back with two other children. As Mitchell drove the car, “Harper was making noise. I can’t really explain it. She didn’t sound good,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said when she told Byrd she wanted to take her daughter back to the hospital, he pointed a gun at her head and hit her, starting what she said were several hours of violence physics that continued after he arrived home. Mitchell said Byrd told her not to call 911 and threatened to shoot anyone who came to the door if he heard sirens, but she eventually called her mother, who came to the house and who called an ambulance to follow her.

It was eventually discovered that Byrd had had six drugs in his system, Detective Eric Martin of Radford testified. Besides methamphetamine, a urine test showed positive results for ecstasy, marijuana, benzodiazapine, methadone and amphetamine, he said.

Byrd did not testify Friday.

He also faces drug and weapons charges, and charges of child abuse or neglect of two other children who often lived with Byrd and Mitchell.

In court Friday, attorneys and Showalter referred to 15 or 16 charges against Byrd, but court records show 18 charges pending against him. These include both first degree murder and what is listed as capital murder of a person under the age of 14 by a person over the age of 20. Since Virginia no longer allows capital punishment, the capital murder charge is effectively an aggravated count of murder and carries a life sentence. in jail, Rehak said last month.

On Friday, lawyers said that before the case reaches trial stage, now scheduled for March, there will be discussions about whether a murder charge will be dropped or whether a judge or jury will decide – s reach a guilty verdict – which charge fits the evidence better.

It also remains undetermined at this time if Byrd will have one or two tries.

Defense attorneys divided Byrd’s charges into five groups and requested a separate trial for each group. They argued that the evidence that would be presented for some of the charges would unfairly prejudice jurors or a judge against Byrd as they considered some of the other offenses – that hearing about drugs or weapons could influence a decision on guilt or innocence of child abuse. , or that stories of violence against Amanda Mitchell could weigh in on a decision about her daughter’s death.

Rehak responded with numerous quotes from previous court rulings, including a comment that all evidence should be prejudicial to some degree, otherwise it was irrelevant. In another quote, Rehak said, “The defense has no right to have the evidence cleaned up.”

Decisions about whether to hear different charges together depend on whether the offenses relate to a pattern or an ongoing episode.

After hearing a range of witnesses describe Harper’s injuries, the presence of a meth pipe in plain view when officers entered the home – and Amanda Mitchell’s testimony about the abuse she says inflicted, including being punched, strangled, bitten and having a shotgun barrel shoved into her mouth — Showalter said at least most of the charges will be heard in a single trial.

“The court is going to find that they are all linked and intertwined,” Showalter said.

It remained undecided at this time whether five charges of child abuse or neglect, or child cruelty, all relating to a period of 5.5 months before Harper’s death, would be tried separately. Showalter gave attorneys 21 days to submit written briefs and said he would make a decision after reviewing them.

Elna M. Lemons