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Court Rejects Va. Slay Appeal

July 11, 2000

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A white man convicted of murder in the burning and beheading of a black acquaintance was denied a new trial by a state appeals court Tuesday.

Emmett Cressell Jr., who is serving life in prison for his role in the 1997 death of Garnett Johnson, argued that his trial should have been moved to another locality because the jury was prejudiced by news coverage. He also claimed three jurors should have been excused and that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction. All three arguments were unanimously rejected.

Johnson, 40, was doused with gasoline and set afire after Cressell and another white man, Louis Ceparano, dragged the former Marine outside while two women stayed inside a trailer where they all had been drinking. Authorities found Johnson’s charred corpse in a pile of debris with his severed, burned head in a freshly dug hole nearby.

Ceparano pleaded guilty to capital murder in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole. Cressell also was charged with capital murder, but a jury convicted him of a lesser offense.

Cressell’s lawyer, Mark Claytor of Salem, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the appellate court ruling.

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