A few hours later, the tables were turned. Eubanks was released without charges. Donnie Don Beverley was arrested on a charge of triple homicide of Walter Humphries and two other members of the Humphries family. From that day to this, Donnie Don Beverley has never been outside of jail. Eubanks was never charged with anything and has never spent a night in jail.
I did not really believe Donnie Don's story and was not really interested in it. However, one day, having nothing else to do, I decided to read the 376 page trial transcript. I was shocked at what I found. I have since thoroughly investigated this case. I have visited the crime scene. I have spoken to all of the surviving witnesses to this case. Here is what I found:
Donnie Don Beverley is part Cherokee Indian and part black, but mostly he is white. You would not even know that he is not pure white if he did not tell you. That is a reflection of a character trait which has wound him up in prison for 20 years: His brutal honesty. If he were a bit devious, he would never have been prosecuted.
One of the notorious events in US history occurred in 1838, when President Andrew Jackson ordered all the Indians to be deported to Oklahoma. It was a long walk to Oklahoma. An estimated 4,000 died along the way. A few Indians evaded deportation by hiding in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and elsewhere, never coming down from their mountain homes, never attending schools and never mixing with city society. Fugitive runaway slaves joined the Indians in the mountains and mixed and married with them. The Indians pretended to be black to avoid being deported to Oklahoma. The blacks pretended to be Indians to avoid being returned to slavery. It is from this mixture of whites, blacks and Indians that Donnie Don Beverley came.
The Beverley family is one of the oldest in America. Elizabeth Beverley came to Virginia from England in 1651. She was the great-aunt of Thomas Jefferson. She married William Randolph. Their son was named Beverley Randolph. Several generations down, Beverley Randolph was the Governor of Virginia from 1788 to 1791. Thomas Jefferson named one of his sons Beverley Hemings after his Beverley relatives. The great-grandson of that Beverley Hemings became the Chairman of DuPont Chemical Corp. Note that all these Beverleys have their name spelled with three "e"s, as opposed to the more common spelling of Beverly.
In spite of these aristocratic origins, Donnie Don Beverley was born and grew up high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The place where he grew up is about fifteen miles from "Walton's Mountain" where the television series "The Waltons" is supposedly set. Donnie Don Beverley never went to school. He did not learn how to read and write. He does not even have a proper birth certificate. He does not even know how he happens to have the strange sounding name of "Donnie Don", except that this is what he has always been called. He is not sure what name his parents intended to give him.
This is the main reason why Donnie Don Beverley is in prison today. He did not learn how to read and write. Had he known how to read and write, he would have understood how to defend against the false charges brought against him.
Here is what happened on that fateful day, the last day of freedom for Donnie Don Beverley:
Donnie Don Beverley was going coon hunting. Raccoons, those cute furry animals, can be a big nuisance if you live in the mountains. Donnie Don went to the shooting range and took target practice. He then put his shotgun in the gun rack of his pickup truck and drove his truck to the house of his friend, Richard Eubanks. Donnie Don picked up Eubanks. They both had a few beers. Donnie Don drove to Coleman's Store on Route 29 about 6 miles north of Lynchburg, where he bought some buckshot, because he had used up his ammunition during target practice.
Donnie Don drove Richard Eubanks to a tiny red house on the right side of Lynchburg Avenue in Monroe, Virginia.
Everyone from that area will think that they know where Lynchburg Avenue is, but they don't. Lynchburg Avenue is not in Lynchburg. It is a tiny road which slants off to the west of Route 29 about 10 miles north of Lynchburg and about 3 miles from Sweet Briar College, a prestigious cloistered rich girl's school.
It is almost impossible to understand what happened next without seeing this tiny house on Lynchburg Avenue. I went there myself. Now I understand but before I did not. I also went to Coleman's Store.
The house is so small that it is difficult to imagine anybody inside there, yet there were ten people inside that house on the day in question. That was also the last day anybody has been inside that house. After three people died in that house, it was boarded up. Nobody has been inside from that day to this. The house is now completely overgrown with vines and weeds.
The house is perched on the ledge of a cliff. There is no sidewalk. The house comes right up to the edge of the road. There is a straight drop at least 50 feet down out the backdoor, if there were a back door. Lynchburg Avenue is only one lane wide, just barely wide enough for one car. On the left side of the road is a cliff straight up; on the right side of the road is a cliff straight down. If one wants to run away, there is nowhere to go, except to climb the cliff on the left, or jump off the cliff on the right, or run up or down the road, or go in the house.
Donnie Don Beverley drove his pickup truck up to the house on Lynchburg Avenue. There was a virtual family reunion going on that day. Donnie Don's wife and their three daughters were all at the house, as were Donnie Don's in-laws, the Humphries family. Barbara Humphries came out of the house and went around to the driver's side where Donnie Don was sitting. She asked him for ten dollars back which she had loaned him. He told her that he had just spent his last money on buckshot, but that he would pay her in a few days. She seemed satisfied with this, and then back went around to the other side of the car, the side near the house, and spoke to Richard Eubanks.
It is not clear what they said to each other, but, for some reason, Eubanks became angry and started shouting at Barbara Humphries. He reached around and pulled Donnie Don's shotgun off the gun rack behind the driver's seat of the pickup truck. (It is important to remember that these people are all essentially hillbillies.) Richard Eubanks got out of the truck and started waiving around the shotgun. When this happened, all the members of the Humphries family plus Donnie Don's wife and three daughters ran inside the house to hide.
Throughout this, Donnie Don had been sitting passively in the drivers seat. When Eubanks started drunkenly waving around his shotgun, Donnie Don got out, came around the truck and grabbed Eubanks from behind, trying to take the gun away from him. Unfortunately, Eubanks had his finger on the trigger. The shotgun went off. By that time, there was nobody outside of the house except for Donnie Don and Eubanks. The other ten people had run inside.
When the gun went off, Eubanks was holding it at a 45 degree angle. There are seven pellets in a round of buckshot. They went through the upper window. Donnie Don knew that Walter Humphries was sleeping inside. He knew that Humphries was an angry man. He figured that when Humphries heard the commotion, he would come charging out the door. Therefore, Donnie Don pushed Eubanks into the pickup truck and drove off. They drove 10 miles down Elon Road. Donnie Don pulled the truck off the road and both he and Eubanks went to sleep. A few hours later, the sheriff's deputies found them.
What had happened was that Walter Humphries had indeed heard the commotion and was in the hallway in the process of coming out the door, but had been killed instantly by the buckshot. The buckshot had not directly hit anybody. It had gone through the window on an upward angle, had hit the ceiling and had ricocheted off the ceiling downward, hitting three people in the forehead, killing them all instantly, the autopsy report showed. Two were in the living room. One was in the hallway. Had Walter Humphries stayed in bed, he would not have been killed. All three who died were members of the Humphries family.
The above is what the trial transcript says. This is confirmed by interviews with all of the witnesses. There is really no dispute that this is what happened. One round of buckshot killed all three people.
The question is: Why was Donnie Don Beverley, who had no prior criminal record, sentenced to 40 years in prison for this, whereas nobody else was charged with anything?
The answer is a combination of racial prejudice in backwards hillbilly territory plus general incompetence and corruption in the Virginia judicial system.
Among all the backwoods counties of Virginia, for more than one hundred years, Amherst County has had the reputation for kangaroo courts. Traditionally, when a man was sentenced to die in Amherst County, the judge did not bother to stay the sentence pending appeal. Rather, on the same day that the sentence was passed, the man was taken out and hung from a tree just 100 yards north of the courthouse. Every time this happened, they cut a notch in the wooden rail on the sidebar in the courtroom. That hanging tree was cut down a few years ago when they built the jail, but the sidebar, where they cut a notch whenever a man was hung, is still there. It is to the left of the judge's bench and is next to where the court clerk sits. If you ever visit that courtroom, look for the sidebar or ask the courtroom deputy to point it out to you, and count the notches in it.
The important fact was that Donnie Don Beverley was part Cherokee Indian. He lived in the mountains. He did not know how to read and write. Richard Eubanks was a hillbilly redneck, but at least he was white. We think of Indians as those lovable characters with their wigwams and teepees who constantly get shot up in Western movies, but in Amherst County they are still despised. Members of one of the racially mixed tribes there are known as the "Issues". Another are the "Johns". This is a hot subject in Amherst County. Don't ever try to call a Johns an Issue, and visa-versa. Anthropologists like to study these people. These people mostly stay up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Most people do not realize that they are even there.
The public prosecutor, the Amherst County Commonwealth Attorney, was named Barny Wycoff . He personally disliked Donnie Don Beverley. I was not able to ask him the reason, because Barny Wycoff himself was killed about one year after Donnie Don Beverley was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The trial transcript makes it obvious why Donnie Don Beverley was convicted. He is lucky that he did not receive more than the 40 years he got. In the first place, there was prosecutorial zeal. In his opening and closing statements, the prosecutor, Barny Wycoff, told the jury that Donnie Don Beverley, who was known to be a mild-mannered, passive individual, just suddenly flew off the handle, grabbed the shotgun and started firing into the crowd.
However, this explanation was not supported by the testimony or the evidence. Barny Wycoff just completely made up this story himself. Several witnesses testified, but none of them placed the gun in the hands of Donnie Don Beverley. The clerk at Coleman's Store testified that Donnie Don Beverley had come in the store at about noon to purchase buckshot. These killings had happened at about 1:00 PM. Unquestionably, Donnie Don Beverley was the owner of the shotgun. Several witnesses testified about the conversations Barbara Humphries had first had with Donnie Don Beverley and then with Richard Eubanks. The public prosecutor made it sound like Donnie Don Beverley had started firing because Barbara Humphries had asked him for ten dollars back. However, Donnie Don Beverley's own wife and three daughters were also in the house. It was just a random coincidence that none of his own immediate family members were killed.
The fact that Donnie Don Beverley had pushed Eubanks into the truck and had taken off and drove ten miles down Elon Road was used by the prosecutor to claim that Donnie Don had run away from the scene of the crime. However, if that was true, why did Donnie Don not continue another hundred miles to the West Virginia line? Why did he pull over and go to sleep while still in Amherst County? Actually, Donnie Don Beverley had no way of knowing that anybody had even been hurt in the freak incident.
Because everybody ran in the house when Richard Eubanks grabbed the gun, there were actually no witnesses to the moment when the gun went off. The only actual witness was Donnie Don's daughter, who was ten years old at the time. The prosecutor called her as a witness. In answer to his first and only question, she testified: "Richard had the gun." The prosecutor said: "No further questions," and took her off the stand.
So, in spite of the fact that there were ten people present at the time (three of whom were killed) nobody witnessed the moment of the actual shooting.
A major question concerns the trial transcript. Apparently some of the reporter's notes were lost and, although the transcript is supposed to be 376 pages long, 30 pages are missing. It is possible that there is evidence or testimony in those 30 missing pages linking Donnie Don Beverley to the crime, but I can state categorically, having studied in great detail the 346 pages which are not missing, that there is not one word of evidence in the record showing that Donnie Don Beverley is guilty of anything.
More than prosecutorial zeal, the main reason that Donnie Don Beverley was convicted was the incompetence of defense counsel. Because Donnie Don Beverley had been charged with capital murder (in other words, they were trying to give him the death penalty) two defense attorneys were appointed to defend him. They were Lawrence Janow and Michael Gamble of the law firm of Janow & Gamble. In summation, lawyer Janow told the jury: "Our client is not guilty because he was suffering from a personality disorder." Janow and Gamble called a hot shot phony psychologist to testify about this "personality disorder" from which Donnie Don Beverley was supposedly suffering. This defense is outrageous when Donnie Don Beverley has consistently maintained that he did not do the crime at all. Janow and Gamble never argued to the jury that Donnie Don Beverley did not commit the murders. They effectively conceded that he did it and attributed his actions entirely to his "personality disorder."
Judge Goad, the only judge then sitting in Amherst County, remarked after the jury returned their compromise verdict (they only gave him 40 years) that, had this been a judge only trial, he would have found Donnie Don Beverley not guilty, but since this was a jury trial, he had no choice but to follow the jury verdict.
Janow and Gamble put in a routine appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia. That court, long known for laziness and incompetence, issued a one line decision which said: "Finding no error by the trial court, the judgment of conviction is affirmed."
In Virginia, as long as the judge follows a formula and does not commit any "errors", a conviction will always be affirmed. Guilt or innocence has nothing to do with it. The fact that the trial transcript is missing 30 pages would be sufficient grounds for reversal in most jurisdictions.
The wife of Donnie Don Beverley has remained loyal to her husband. She did not divorce and remarry, as most other women would have done. She works in Miles Market on the corner of Cabell Street and Rivermont Avenue in Lynchburg. Richard Eubanks comes in and buys beer there every few days.
The three daughters of Donnie Don Beverley have all grown up, married and have children of their own.
Donnie Don Beverley has been turned down for parole ten times. That is no longer of any moment because Governor George Allen appointed a new hard line parole board which does not grant parole any more.
Donnie Don Beverley will "max" out of prison in another five years.
UPDATE: Donnie Don Beverley is free now after serving 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He lives in Bedford County Virginia and trains and sells hunting dogs for a living. I understand that his ads for his dogs appear in the hunting magazines.