A Kanawha County jury has convicted a Belle man of voluntary manslaughter.
The jury found that Jeffrey Adam Wentz didn’t act in self-defense when he shot and killed 51-year-old Nelson Maynard Mitchell in May.
Wentz, 33, was convicted following a two-day-long trial in the Kanawha Judicial Annex, where jurors watched a video of the shooting taken from a surveillance camera at a business next door to Wentz’s apartment along DuPont Avenue in Belle.
The jury of seven women and five men handed down a verdict after about four hours of deliberation Thursday.
Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman scheduled Wentz’s sentencing hearing for Jan. 15, 2020. The sentence for voluntary manslaughter is between three and 15 years in jail.
Wentz was charged with first-degree murder, and Kanawha Assistant Prosecutors J.C. MacCallum and Justin Marlowe had asked jurors to consider that charge along with second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
MacCallum told jurors that Wentz shot Mitchell because he was mad and annoyed with Mitchell.
Wentz’s attorneys, Mark Atkinson and Michael Hissam, had asked jurors to find that Wentz acted in self-defense and acquit him, saying he shot Mitchell because he feared for his life.
The conviction of voluntary manslaughter indicates jurors found that while Wentz intentionally killed Mitchell, he didn’t do so with malice.
Jurors had been asked to consider whether Wentz reasonably was in fear for his life when he shot Mitchell on May 2, amid a fight about a drug transaction.
Thursday was the second day of the trial, during which jurors heard testimony from Brittany Wherle, Mitchell’s girlfriend, who witnessed the shooting.
Wherle told jurors she and Mitchell had gone to Wentz’s apartment to get heroin after her friend, Chelsea Ward, set up a deal with him.
Wentz previously had told Mitchell he wasn’t welcome at his home, Wentz’s attorneys said, so Ward was in charge of conducting the transaction wherein she traded with Wentz a stroller and car seat that Mitchell stole from the Quincy Walmart for heroin.
Jurors watched the video of the shooting Wednesday.
In the video, Ward can be seen taking the stroller and entering Wentz’s apartment.
Wherle, later joined by Mitchell, comes to the door multiple times and isn’t allowed inside.
Four men exit Wentz’s apartment at one point, and Wentz follows with a gun, although Mitchell and Wherle aren’t visible in the video at that time.
Mitchell and Wherle return, and Mitchell begins throwing several rocks and busting out windows in Wentz’s apartment. When Mitchell picks up the eighth rock is when Wentz fires three shots toward him from the inside of his apartment.
Prosecutors had argued Mitchell was trying to run away, and defense attorneys said Mitchell was in the midst of throwing the eighth rock and potentially physically attacking Wentz.
One of the shots struck Mitchell in the back, killing him.
Wentz will remain incarcerated at South Central Regional Jail as he awaits his sentencing hearing.