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Jury: 24 years for shooting at officer

A Halifax County Circuit Court jury returned guilty verdicts Friday against 35-year-old Scottsburg resident John Phillip Martin for five charges related to an armed confrontation between Martin and Halifax County Sheriff’s Deputy Stanley Britton Jr. in October 2011.

The jury recommended a total sentence of 24 years, 3 months, according to Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Quackenbush Martin, including 15 years for carjacking; five years for attempted voluntary manslaughter of Stanley Britton Jr., one year for disregarding a law enforcement signal to stop; three months for identity fraud and three years for use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Under Virginia’s criminal justice system, a jury may not recommend suspended time, so of the 24 years, three months, none is suspended, according to the prosecutor.

Related charges, including being a violent felon in possession of a firearm and being a felon in possession of ammunition, previously served, are pending and will be set for pleas or trial, shortly, Quackenbush Martin added.

The defendant had initially been charged with the attempted capital murder of Britton, carjacking, felony eluding, grand larceny of a vehicle, identity theft and four related firearm charges in
connection with the shootout.

The events that led to the criminal charges occurred on North Terry’s Bridge Road in Halifax County on Oct. 23, 2011, according to Quackenbush Martin.

“Deputy Britton explained to the jury that he stopped John Phillip Martin to serve him with an outstanding arrest warrant,” she said.

“Deputy Britton testified that the defendant presented a false identity.  When Deputy Britton verified his true identity and told him he was under arrest, the defendant drove away at a high rate of speed. 

“Deputy Britton indicated that after a short pursuit, the defendant stopped his truck, got out and began firing on the deputy,” she continued.

“Deputy Britton described that the defendant moved toward him and fired on him, and Deputy Britton used his own vehicle for cover, returning fire.

“The deputy testified that the defendant took the police cruiser and escaped.  Deputy Britton was unharmed.  

“The deputy’s patrol car was recovered, and the defendant was arrested in an unoccupied house the following day in Charlotte County.”

The defendant had a different version of events and under questioning from defense attorney Andrew Childress said Britton fired at him first.

He didn’t aim his gun at Britton, rather he aimed it at an embankment alongside of the road to “scare” the deputy and make his escape, the defendant told Childress.

Martin, who told the court he had not found permanent employment in at least five years, told Childress he had ventured out that day to get gas in order to get to a temporary job and pay his child support, but “panicked” when pulled over by Britton.

“I should have said, ‘You got me,’ when I was first pulled over,” the defendant told Childress.

“I panicked a little, I guess.  I didn’t plan to have a gun in my hand…I was just trying to get rid of it.

“I didn’t plan to shoot. I was scared…everything happened so quickly…I didn’t plan to drive off in the patrol car,” the defendant told Childress.

“I didn’t mean to kill anybody or take any action to kill anyone,” said the defendant, adding Britton maced him after determining he was trying to resist arrest and drive away when initially pulled over.

Defense attorney William C. Lawrence reminded the jury his client “had no obligation to tell his story.

“Deputy Britton shot first, over and over again,” said Lawrence, who told the jury Britton was being less than truthful in his testimony, and, in criticizing the search of the crime scene cited a “stunning lack of evidence” in the case.

John Martin’s gun was a two-shot derringer, and it was “beyond the laws of physics” there were three bullets in the gun, Lawrence said.

Quackenbush Martin asked the jury to remember that Britton was standing between the defendant and freedom.

The spent casings at several locations matched Britton’s testimony, and state police did a thorough search of the scene, the commonwealth’s attorney said in defending the crime scene investigation.

“He’s here telling you the best he can remember,” Quackenbush said of Britton’s testimony, two and a half years after the incident.

Britton knew it wasn’t going to be an easy arrest after the defendant committed identity fraud right in front of him, and once that fraud was discovered, the deputy took out his cuffs and mace, according to the prosecutor.

“[Britton] was concerned the defendant wouldn’t stop, and the defendant was nervous,” she said.

“You don’t have to believe how many shots the defendant fired,” added the prosecutor.

“Did he aim, point and shoot, yes, and did he deprive Deputy Britton of his vehicle, yes.

“[Martin] told us he wouldn’t kill to get away, but we know he was lying to get out of the consequences of his actions.

“He pointed his gun at Stanley Britton Jr. and fired,” the prosecutor concluded in her closing argument.

“We believe that in certain matters of serious concern to our community, like this case, the citizens of Halifax County should have a voice,” Quackenbush Martin said after the jury had reached its verdict.

“Through jury trials, they have that voice,” she added. 

“The commonwealth is satisfied that the people of Halifax County have spoken.  We are especially grateful that Stanley Britton Jr., “was unharmed, and that, with the end of this trial, comes some measure of closure for the Britton family.”