JURY: PECK NOT GUILTY

by Portsia Smith | Fredericksburg.com
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A jury of nine women and three men decided last night that John Wayne Peck was not guilty of murder in the 2006 fatal shooting death of a hunting buddy in Caroline County.

The jury began deliberations about 6 p.m. and reached its verdict after 10.

Earlier the jurors heard Peck, 29, give an emotional account of what happened the night of Oct. 9, 2006.

Peck said that after a day of dove hunting and drinking liquor with some friends, he gave 61-year-old Jerry Curtis Beverly a ride home because Beverly had been drinking.

When they arrived at Beverly's home on Rozell Road in Woodford, Peck said that Beverly got out of the truck and slid his rifle onto the passenger seat, Then he said Beverly reached in the truck toward Peck's .44-caliber Magnum revolver that was lying in the console.

Peck said he brushed Beverly's hand away after he said something about shooting toes off. He said Beverly reached in for the gun again and he had to push him away again.

Peck said he was attempting to place the pistol in the back seat, out of Beverly's view, when he noticed the gun was cocked.

"I didn't cock the gun," he said. "It's never cocked."

He then explained that he had to pull the trigger back to uncock the gun. He said the hammer slipped from underneath his thumb and went off.

He said he cursed.

Then he heard Beverly say "You shot me."

"No, I didn't," Peck said he said.

"You did," he said that Beverly replied, then instructed him to call the "sheriff or someone."

Peck said, "I didn't shoot you."

Then Beverly showed him the blood before falling back with his hands in the air, Peck testified.

Peck, who is on medication for panic attacks, was sobbing during much of his testimony. "I did not mean for this to happen. I considered Jerry a friend and I'm sorry, I'm sorry to his family. I never had a cross word with this man," Peck said.

Beverly's ex-wife Phyllis left the courtroom. Later, she said she had been angry at Peck's continuous tears.

"Nobody knows what it's like to see somebody dead," a tearful Peck said. "I panicked. I know it's not going to bring Jerry back, but I'm sorry."

Peck said that after he got no response from Beverly, he jumped in his truck and drove away. As he drove away, he said he saw the weapon sitting in his passenger seat. He said he threw it over a bridge. Authorities later recovered it.

"I just wanted it away from me," Peck said. "I wasn't trying to hide it, I just wanted it away from me so I threw it in the river."

Commonwealth's Attorney Tony Spencer said in his closing argument that several of Peck's actions showed that he shot Beverly intentionally. Spencer asked the jury if the shooting was accidental, why did Peck flee the scene, throw the gun away and leave Beverly to die without calling for help?

Spencer told the jury that Peck's story didn't make any sense. He argued that Beverly's arms were in the up position because he had a gun pointed at him, and "if the lower half of your left lung is blown out, you can't have a conversation and you don't say 'call the sheriff,' you say 'call 911.'"

Spencer also argued that Peck showed no remorse for the shooting. "He's been crying for three days straight. But he's not crying for Jerry Beverly, he's crying for poor little John Wayne Peck," Spencer said.

He pointed out that in Peck's 2006 video statement the defendant said he had too much to lose, including his job, his fiancee and his good life. "He said the thing that hurt him most is that 2-year-old boy [his son] not Jerry Beverly," Spencer said.

Spencer's closing argument was interrupted twice by Peck's grandmother Maie Garnett, who raised him since he was an infant. She was escorted from the courtroom after yelling at Spencer, "you're a liar, you're a liar."

Beverly's daughter, Lesa Atkins, testified that Beverly was a strong believer in gun safety and that it would have been uncharacteristic of him to be horsing around with a gun, as some witnesses said he had been.

Defense Attorney Jon David argued that the prosecution's case was based on a poor police investigation and faded memories of an incident three years ago.

"They have not proved that this was not an accident. They have not proved that it was intentional," David told the jury. "It was an accident. He has to live with this for the rest of his life that he killed his friend."

Portsia Smith: 540-374-5419

Email: psmith@fredericksburg.com