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20-year-old man convicted of killing his girlfriend, whose body was found on a Richmond bike trail
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20-year-old man convicted of killing his girlfriend, whose body was found on a Richmond bike trail

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A Richmond jury on Wednesday convicted a 20-year-old man of the second-degree murder of his girlfriend, whose body was discovered on a bike trail off Williamsburg Avenue behind Stone Brewing last year.

Dominique Danzy was 22, studying to be a dental hygienist, when she was killed on the evening of May 12, 2020. She’d been shot in the back five times and once more in the head with a .22-caliber rifle that she had gone with her boyfriend, Jamar Paxton Jr., to buy earlier that day.

A biker riding the trail found her body 12 to 15 hours later, around 10:15 a.m. on May 13, 2020. She was curled up in the fetal position in the middle of the dirt path. Her blood soaking the ground around her.

Three .22-caliber long rifle shell casings were found nearby. They matched the murder weapon, which was found, covered in her blood, in the trunk of Danzy’s car parked behind a Henrico hotel where Paxton had been living at the time. His DNA was on the trigger.

He was arrested on May 14, 2020 in Colonial Heights. In the backpack he had with him at the time, detectives found Danzy’s car keys and another .22-caliber shell casing matching the murder weapon.

During the police interrogation, Paxton, at first, denied any involvement saying Danzy had dropped him off earlier the day of the shooting to get a haircut. But after Detective Jamie Baynes confronted him with the evidence, Paxton confessed and claimed self-defense — that Danzy had shot at him first and he wrested the gun from her and then shot back.

Prosecutors Brooke Pettit and Learned Barry told the jury they had a strong case against Paxton, asking them to find him guilty of first-degree murder. But public defenders Ashley Shapiro and Geoffrey Tucker successfully poked holes in the investigation, but only enough to sway the jury to a lesser degree of murder. That means at sentencing, scheduled before a judge in February, the maximum punishment Paxton faces is 40 years in prison, rather than life.

Paxton’s defense team called the investigation “short sighted.”

“They weren’t looking for who killed Dominique Danzy but how to convict Jamar Paxton,” Tucker said in his opening statement.

Paxton’s defense team said his confession during the interrogation was false, elicited only after an hour of Paxton being bombarded with questions and fed the answers police wanted to hear.

“You introduced the idea of self-defense,” Shapiro asked Baynes during cross-examination. Baynes said he tried to “give (Paxton) a way out,” otherwise he’d look like a “monster.”

Pettit, in her closing, said even without his confession, the evidence still pointed to Paxton.

Paxton testified during the three-day trial maintaining his innocence while pointing the finger at Danzy’s step-father, who the prosecution called to rebut the claim that he called “insane.”

Shapiro and Tucker asserted that Paxton and Danzy had gone to buy a gun for Danzy’s protection, but she had an out-of-state license so she couldn’t purchase one. Paxton being too young — he was 18 at the time — to purchase a handgun or AR-15, he settled for the cheapest rifle Dance’s Sporting Goods offered. They showed video footage of the two leaving the store arm in arm.

“The Commonwealth is picking and choosing the part of the confession they want to believe,” Tucker said.

“Why?” Shapiroo asked at the start of her closing argument. “You’ve heard all of this evidence but the one question the Commonwealth can’t answer is why?”

Despite the lack of motive and after five hours of deliberation, the jurors found Paxton guilty of second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of the felony.

arockett@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6527

Twitter: @AliRockettRTD

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