Chesterfield’s Attorney General Demands New Judge in High-Range Murder Case, Citing Fearful Impartiality

Chesterfield, Virginia (WRIC) – The Chesterfield Attorney General has asked a district court judge to drop a murder trial scheduled for April, citing concerns about the victim’s children and continuing tensions between the judge and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.

Chesterfield Commonwealth Attorney Stacy Davenport has petitioned for District Judge Lynn Bryce to step down from presiding over the high-profile case of a man accused of killing Linda Lunsford in 1996, arguing that Lunsford’s children were concerned.

Davenport cites media attention to the case and Bryce’s re-appointment interview after State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D. Richmond) asked a judge about two meetings with Chester Commonwealth Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Nesbitt last November.

Senator Morrissey asked Brice to give her version of the incidents during her December 10 interview on the reappointment of the court before the House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee. Morrissey then asked Nesbitt to talk about the meetings in a summary that was voiced with lawmakers five days later and eventually went public.

Davenport wrote in her February 14 petition that Bryce’s memoirs and Nesbitt’s resume “are in direct conflict with each other.”

“Members of the Virginia General Assembly appear to be considering these now public controversial statements over the reappointment of the presiding judge,” Davenport wrote.

In January, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to remove Bryce’s name from the list of judicial reassignments. Complaints about Bryce’s professionalism by the court clerk, her alleged statements in court and her interaction with Nesbitt were made during a December 10 interview.

In a five-page summary of Nesbitt, obtained by 8News, she claims that Bryce ordered her to take off her mask in court on November 17 because she found it difficult to understand her and worried about keeping court records.

Nesbitt wrote that her child had recently been hospitalized with a respiratory illness and she did not feel comfortable taking off her mask in a crowded courtroom.

“Because of the discomfort of discussing my personal life in a full and public courtroom, I explained that I did not want to take off my mask while at the lawyer’s desk,” for the safety of my children, “Nesbitt wrote in her resume.

But Bryce said she was unaware of the situation, a detail Nesbit admits in her resume, telling lawmakers that the prosecutor said she could not take off her mask in court “for personal reasons.”

Nesbit said she was not allowed to present her case that day, and Bryce denied her request for a break so she could lead another prosecutor’s case. “I was fired and not allowed to perform my duties because I thought it necessary to wear a mask,” she wrote.

The next day Bryce asked Nesbitt to see her in her rooms. Nesbitt wrote that she asked Davenport to join, “because I wanted to witness the conversation.” During the meeting, Nesbitt claimed that Bryce “aggressively raised her voice” and said that leaving the courtroom “was completely disrespectful.”

“I actually have a transcript of this situation because I was worried about it. No, it wasn’t … it happened, ”Bryce said when Morrissey asked her if the interaction in court was controversial, and led to a“ scream ”on November 18th. “It didn’t happen that way.”

“She didn’t tell me what the problem was, but she was wearing a mask. Her comments were very muted. I couldn’t understand her. I explained it to her. I explained that I also have a record, and I would be grateful if she would take off her mask, ”Bryce said in an interview. “What was on the record, and what I told her, was ‘We’re going to miss you’ because, frankly, I think she’s doing a great job.”

Bryce claimed to have asked Nesbitt how she could place her in court during a meeting in her rooms, saying they agreed that Nesbitt could speak from the rostrum instead of sitting at a table with another lawyer.

“Honestly, my comment was,“ You can stand at the door with a microphone if you’re comfortable. I just need to be able to hear you. There was no shout. My secretary asked me what it was about when she left, ”Bryce told lawmakers.

While Nesbitt wrote that Bryce “did not shout”, she noted that the judge raised his voice “clearly hostile” so that people passing by the open door could hear.

“Judge Bryce reiterated that I was unprofessional in court and said that my behavior would affect my reputation with her, the bench and the Chesterfield legal community,” Nesbitt wrote. “I think she thought the statement was threatening.”

Davenport wants a new judge to preside over the case of John Harvey Howard, a 62-year-old man accused of first-degree murder following Lunsford’s alleged death.

Howard was arrested last May, almost 25 years after Lunsford was last seen. He was a former Lunsford guy and worked with her at Walmart near Midlothian Turnpike in 1996 when she disappeared.

In December 1996, Lansford, a mother of five, was reported missing and then police thought she was dead years later. Lunsford’s body was not found, but Chesterfield police said in a release that authorities had evidence to “bring Howard to justice.”

Davenport and Nesbitt will hear the case, which is scheduled for mid-April. Davenport wrote in her motion that Bryce does not know the specific details of the case, so a new judge may preside over the trial.

Davenport also claimed that Bryce “showed public contempt for Nesbitt” during his appearance in court on February 11, the first time the prosecutor has been in Bryce’s courtroom since last November, but did not provide any additional details.

“Whether there is any de facto bias or bias (or lack thereof) on the part of the presiding judge against the lawyer representing the Commonwealth in this matter, in this case the judge’s impartiality” may be questioned, “Davenport wrote in her motion. .

Judge Bryce’s term will expire in December, if lawmakers do not take the unlikely step of reappointing her before the March 12 session of the General Assembly. unsuccessful.

Virginia’s canon of justice prohibits judges from giving public comments on pending or pending cases. Davenport told 8News in an email that she had no “updated information to share” other than her petition for Bryce to drop the case.

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