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Man's acquittal 'showed that justice is blind,' but is lacking for slaying victim
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Man's acquittal 'showed that justice is blind,' but is lacking for slaying victim

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After more than nine months in jail, Everett Bolling Jr. recently walked out of the Richmond City Justice Center a free man.

A Richmond jury had acquitted him of murder a few hours earlier, on March 12.

“It was overwhelming,” Bolling, 37, said in an interview nearly two weeks after his release, “to walk out of the door of the jail — free — and knowing the possibilities of how it could have turned out because of so many innocent men being convicted.”

One of his defense attorneys, Shannon Dillon, who along with Alex Taylor, represented Bolling during the weeklong trial earlier this month, shook her head with the certainty that it couldn’t, or shouldn’t, have ended any other way.

“We showed that justice is blind,” Dillon said. “We proved the system works. It’s not as broken as it’s reported to be.”

The attorneys praised the jurors, who they said looked at all the evidence and came to the conclusion that Bolling was not guilty. Bolling credited his defense team, including Dillon and Taylor, as well as investigator Scott Suddarth and forensics expert Patrick Siewert.

“This may not have happened if it wasn’t for my team, and God,” Bolling said, but added that this was no celebration as questions still linger and the victim, 31-year-old Francesca Harris-Scarborough, is left without justice.

“At this point, we don’t know who did this,” Dillon said.

Bolling expressed his condolences to Harris-Scarborough, whom most called Franny, and her family. Her family did not wish to be interviewed for this article, according to the prosecutor.

Even with Bolling acquitted, Richmond police said her murder remains “cleared by arrest,” according to a department spokesperson.

The case against Bolling

The prosecution had a strong case, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Katherine Groover said in an email following the trial, though she added that the evidence was mostly circumstantial.

“We believed this was one of the clearest cases of premeditated murder that we have ever seen, but because the evidence was circumstantial, instead of direct, we believe the jury struggled with making the decision to ultimately hold the defendant accountable for his actions,” Groover said in an email a week after Bolling was acquitted.

The victim, Harris-Scarborough, was pregnant with Bolling’s child. Bolling is married and has five children with another woman.

That was motive to kill her, the prosecution alleged in a motion, “so as not to be burdened with the financial and emotional costs associated with raising a sixth child from another woman.”

Richmond officers found Harris-Scarborough shot to death in her car around 6:50 a.m. on April 9. The car was still idling, where she had parked it the night before in the 3400 block of Blakey Street in Church Hill.

Harris-Scarborough had been shot twice in the chest at close range with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, which was never recovered.

Witnesses who lived in the area said they heard the gunshots around 9 p.m. the night before her body was discovered.

Three neighbors said they saw a man walking from the scene after the gunshots. They all gave the same rough description of the suspected shooter: a Black man in his 30s or 40s and approximately 6 feet tall. One also mentioned the man had facial hair.

Bolling fit the general description, but the height of the suspect would become a contentious issue at trial.

Surveillance footage from the scene showed the shooter exit the passenger side of Harris-Scarborough’s car with a black bag, walk into an alleyway and return to the car, still carrying the bag.

“We see a struggle occurring between the person that killed her and the victim, and we know that person then shot her at close range, execution-style, twice in the chest,” Groover said during a July hearing, where Bolling was denied bond. “Our victim had no weapon, no way to protect herself, no way to get out of that situation, and literally fought for her life against this person who had no reason to kill her except for the fact that she was basically making his life come apart at the seams.

“We then know he walked off as if nothing happened,” Groover said during the earlier bond hearing.

Richmond detectives spoke to family members of Harris-Scarborough and an employee at the leasing office where she rented an apartment in South Richmond, all of whom testified that the victim was scared of Bolling.

“He wanted her to abort the pregnancy, she refused, and then he began threatening her and becoming increasingly aggressive toward her,” Groover said. “We were able to establish that history by having witnesses close to the victim who testified that the victim was increasingly afraid of the defendant leading up to her death, and that he had even told her he would kill her.”

Bolling had no alibi for the time of the shooting.

A witness testified that on April 8, Bolling attended Wednesday night services at Everlasting Spirit Ministries, a church off Hermitage Road near The Diamond. The church locked its doors around 8 p.m.

Bolling told a reporter that he headed toward his Chesterfield County home, though he didn’t remember the route he took and had stopped to pick up dinner. It was the start of the pandemic when restaurants and businesses were shutting down.

“You just didn’t know what would be open,” Bolling said during an interview with a reporter. “Little Caesar’s was a last resort.”

But he told police he’d arrived home around 9:15 or 9:30 p.m., when it was really after 10 p.m., Groover said, adding that this gave him plenty of time to commit the murder.

At 9:39 p.m., Bolling was seen in surveillance video at the Little Caesar’s on Walmsley Boulevard buying dinner, according to court documents.

At 9:51 p.m., he made a purchase at the Wawa on Iron Bridge Road. His home, at the time, was a few miles farther south off Iron Bridge Road, court records said.

Cellphone evidence

The prosecution’s case hinged on cellphone data from a “burner” Tracfone, which Groover said “was only ever used to call and text the victim, including 30 minutes before her death, then never again.” Bolling’s defense team called much of the data into question at trial.

Two weeks before the slaying, Bolling purchased a Tracfone from a Chesterfield Walmart that he then returned two hours later at a separate Walmart in Richmond.

Groover said footage from the Richmond Walmart showed Bolling talking to a man outside, who then purchased another Tracfone and brought it back to Bolling. That man testified that Bolling paid him $10.

The next day, on March 28, two other men purchased a Tracfone from the Richmond Walmart. It was the same Tracfone that Bolling had returned the day before.

Bolling was not seen on Walmart footage on March 28, but Groover said his personal cellphone — an iPhone he’s had for years, Bolling said — utilized a cell tower in the area of that Walmart when the phone was purchased.

“We believed the evidence circumstantially proved the same M.O. for having someone buy the phone for him,” Groover said.

A FBI agent traced both Bolling’s iPhone and the Tracfone.

“Simply put, it appears the two phones moved in tandem during the time period of March 27, 2020 and April 9,” wrote prosecutor Patrick Dorgan, who worked with Groover on the case, in a pretrial motion. “The last known location to be ‘pinged’ by the Tracfone is in and around the area of the victim’s residence at about 8:30 p.m. on the evening of the murder.”

Bolling’s iPhone either died or was turned off during church that night, according to cellphone data. It began receiving data again around 10:30 p.m.

The last call received by the victim was from the Tracfone at 8:34 p.m. and lasted 297 seconds, according to court documents.

The case for Bolling

Even Bolling’s attorneys admitted that, considering the commonwealth’s evidence alone, it didn’t look good for their client, so they set to work poking holes in the case.

“When you first looked at it, they might have had something, but the further into the case you delved, the more you realized that although the Commonwealth thought it was a circumstantial case, it wasn’t even circumstantial,” Dillon said. “It was presumptions, hunches, speculation, at best.”

Bolling was arrested June 5 after a grand jury indicted him on charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

He remained behind bars until he was acquitted more than nine months later. He lost his home and his business, a preowned-car dealership, where the victim had worked for him from about June 2019 through January 2020.

January 2020 was when Harris-Scarborough found out she was pregnant, though Bolling said he found out he was the father only when investigators had the unborn child’s DNA tested against his own.

According to Bolling, they last saw each other in March 2020, less than a month before her death, when Harris-Scarborough called him because she was about to be evicted.

Bolling paid $800 in overdue rent, court records showed.

The rental office employee — who testified that Harris-Scarborough had said Bolling had been stalking her and that he was mad about paying her overdue rent — also said Bolling has been seen around the apartment for two years. Bolling had known Harris-Scarborough less than a year.

Bolling denied any stalking or threatening Harris-Scarborough in an interview with a reporter. He did not testify at his trial.

Another man had been living at Harris-Scarborough’s apartment in 2019. That man was interviewed by Richmond police but was eliminated as a suspect — prematurely, according to the defense.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch is not identifying this man because he has not been charged in the killing.

His cellphone records also were tracked by the FBI, showing that the phone was in Henrico County at the time of the shooting.

“Cellphone towers track phones, not people,” Dillon said, adding that Groover never put the Tracfone in her client’s hand.

Before trial, Groover made a motion to exclude any evidence of this man as a possible suspect, saying that “the right to present evidence in one’s defense doesn’t permit a defendant to introduce evidence that merely suggests or insinuates that because a third party has been accused, the third party may actually have some connection to the crime. Such evidence is irrelevant; it tends to confuse and mislead a jury.”

But in her closing argument during Bolling’s trial, Groover mentioned the other man by name and that the defense hadn’t presented any evidence that he was involved.

Dillon and Taylor objected because Groover had successfully prevented that evidence from coming before the jury in the first place. The jury was instructed to disregard Groover’s comments because they were deemed inadmissible.

Bolling and this other man physically resemble each other, down to the facial hair, according to Taylor. But Bolling stands 5 feet 7 inches tall, and the other man is about 6 feet tall, matching the description of the killer given by witnesses at the scene. (Taylor had his client measured in front of the jury.)

The defense team also presented DNA evidence from the victim’s passenger car door that did not match Bolling’s. It was never tested against the other man, who lived with the victim.

“The DNA didn’t match; the description didn’t match,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t my client.”

Taylor said they offered an alternative motive for the crime.

“This is no rendezvous between a husband and his lover,” Taylor said in an interview after the trial. “Our theory of the case was that it was a drug deal gone wrong.”

Harris-Scarborough had a bag of marijuana clutched in her hand when she was found dead. More marijuana, along with a scale, was found on the couch of her apartment.

No drugs were found in Harris-Scarborough’s system, according to an autopsy. Taylor said police didn’t look into the drugs as a possible motive.

Dillon and Taylor hired their own cellphone forensic expert, Patrick Siewert, who testified that Bolling’s phone and the Tracfone were not always tracked together. On at least four occasions, the two phones simultaneously “pinged” as far as 9 miles apart, a phenomenon the FBI agent called “teleportation,” which Dillon said is a word he made up.

“What they call teleportation, we call inconsistent,” Dillon said. “Teleportation exists but only in Star Trek and sci-fi.”

Though the agent was careful to say the last location of the Tracfone was “near” the victim’s apartment, Dillon said that could mean a radius of up to 5 miles. Bolling’s former car dealership was within 3.5 miles of Harris-Scarborough’s apartment.

On the night of the fatal shooting, neither Bolling’s phone nor the Tracfone was traced to the Church Hill scene.

Dillon and Taylor spoke with several members of the jury, which was predominantly white and female, after the verdict was read. Bolling and Harris-Scarborough are both black.

Taylor said the prosecution failed “to pursue every angle and suspect.”

“There was one other suspect that was 6 feet tall that was connected to the victim,” he said.

What the jury didn’t hear

Court records showed that authorities had several reasons to suspect the man who had previously lived with Harris-Scarborough, though the jury that acquitted Bolling might not have known it.

While living with the victim, he’d been arrested on drug possession charges, prompting Harris-Scarborough to throw out about 2 pounds of marijuana that the man had allegedly left at her home.

“As a result, [he] became angry and posted about possible retaliation on Facebook,” according to a motion filed by the prosecution. The jury never heard about this threat against the victim.

A week after the fatal shooting, a confidential informant also said the man had confessed to killing Harris-Scarborough. Despite the fact that the defense said the same informant had been deemed credible in other circuit and federal courts, the person was deemed unreliable and inadmissible by Circuit Court Judge Bradley Cavedo prior to Bolling’s trial.

According to court documents, the man posted on social media at 7:43 p.m. the night of the fatal shooting a video of him feeding his dog, and then at 10:18 p.m. he posted again, a score from a video game — leaving a window similar to Bolling’s that night.

This man is currently being held in jail in Georgia in an unrelated shooting there just weeks after Harris-Scarborough was killed. The victim in the Georgia shooting is also a woman, and survived. Those details were also inadmissible during Bolling’s trial.

“Even without that information, the jury acquitted,” Dillon said. “Just imagine how quickly that acquittal would have come if the jury heard that.”

Nor did the jury hear that Harris-Scarborough attempted to call a domestic violence hotline less than an hour before she died. It was the second-to-last number dialed, but she hung up before it connected.

The jury deliberated for nearly nine hours over two days.

Rebuilding Bolling

Bolling said he spent most of his time in jail reading from the law library in hopes of helping his attorneys, or teaching other inmates.

Taylor said Bolling’s research occasionally came in handy during their preparations. But Bolling said he sometimes overstepped.

Dillon would tell him: “‘Mr. Everett, shut up. Let me do my job,’” Bolling said, laughing over it during a celebratory lunch at Outback Steakhouse a week after his release.

“I was fighting for my life,” Bolling said.

He said he was surprised when police began looking at him as a suspect.

“I was stuck between grief and defending myself,” Bolling said.

The accusation of his involvement in the death tarnished his reputation; he is restarting his car-selling business. And he’s trying to reconnect with family members. He thanked his family, especially his mother, Rosalind Hall, and mentor Michael Pearson for standing by him when others didn’t.

Bolling, a convicted felon who served 6½ years for drug possession charges that date back more than 15 years ago, rebuilt his life once. He’s volunteered at church, and spoken to other felons at recovery and re-entry programs about rebuilding after a setback. Now, he’ll have to take his own advice.

“It put in question all the hard work I went through,” Bolling said. “But we’ll get it back.”

arockett@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6527

Twitter: @AliRockettRTD

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