Trial in Huntington murder case begins

July 24, 2018

HUNTINGTON - The day ahead of a murder trial for a man accused of beating to death a man along the Guyandotte River banks in 2017, attorneys met in court Monday to work out final motions in the case, including whether the suspected killer’s alleged confession and evidence of flight would be introduced during the trial.

Anthony Scott Adkins, 32, of Huntington, was charged with murder after a witness said he had beaten to death Douglas E. Daniels, 39, also of Huntington, on May 4, 2017, under the 5th Avenue Bridge along the Guyandotte River banks.

Cabell County prosecutors have argued Adkins and his half-brother, Joey Vernetter, attacked Daniels with a brick at about 8:30 p.m. on the west bank of the river, behind the floodwall and near the intersection of 31st Street and 5th Avenue, before fleeing the area.

Jury selection for the trial was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today at the Cabell County Courthouse. Despite Huntington seeing 19 homicide investigations in 2017, the murder trial is the first in seven months for Cabell County Circuit Court.

Assistant prosecutors Sharon Frazier and Kellie Neal, defense attorneys Kerry Nessel and Todd Meadows and Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard all met Monday ahead of jury selection to argue on several motions.

Howard ruled Monday prosecutors can introduce Adkins’ flight from the scene and a statement given to Huntington Police after he was captured. Nessel argued Monday his client, who had been drinking earlier in the day, was intoxicated at the time the statement was given. Huntington detective Chris Sperry, who interviewed Adkins after his capture, said Adkins appeared to understand the questions and followed the conversation well, which indicated he was not intoxicated.

Nessel also argued the statement should be thrown out because he was not given the full recording of the statement until Thursday due to an error with the Huntington Police Department’s recording system. Howard offered to give Nessel a week to further review the tape, but Nessel declined.

Howard also ruled prosecutors will be able to show jurors gruesome photos from the crime scene and autopsy, showing Daniel’s bloodied body. Because the pictures will be allowed, Howard denied the defense’s request the jury be taken to the Guyandotte River to view the crime scene in person, stating outside circumstances might complicate the case when the jury can get the same understanding of the scene through photos.

The case against Adkins started when responding officers responded to the area to find a bloody scene May 4. Officers allegedly saw a man, later determined to be Vernetter, covered in blood running north along the bank toward the mouth of the Ohio, according to Sperry, who previously testified at a 2017 preliminary hearing in the case.

Vernetter jumped away from officers into the Guyandotte River from 3rd Avenue, a distance of about 50 feet and his body was recovered days later in the Ohio River by a boater.

Police learned from witnesses another man was at the scene and left the area on foot while covered in blood. Police were working to notify that man when a woman called 911 to express concern for a friend who was contacted by Adkins to pick up Adkins at a Guyandotte gas station within minutes of the attack.

The 911 caller had picked Adkins up with the friend before dropping the pair off at an area emergency room. During the car ride, Adkins allegedly admitted to the women he and Vernetter had killed a man under the bridge.

The emergency room visit was for Adkins’ friend, who had an injured ankle. Adkins changed his bloody clothing in the bathroom while there, and placed the items in a gym bag. Nessel claims Adkins was not Daniels’ killer, but it was instead his brother. The blood found on Adkins’ clothing was from when he attempted to get his brother to leave the scene before he left, he argued.

While in the ER, the friend called the driver who had transported the pair, asking her to contact 911 about the incident because she was scared, Sperry previously said. The woman did as requested and told officers the pair could be found at a 1st Street grocery store in Huntington.

They were apprehended soon after and the bloody clothing was recovered. Frazier said Monday Adkins had attempted to cover his face with a hoodie to avoid detection prior to being caught. Nessel said Adkins’ behavior after leaving the scene showed he was not avoiding prosecution in the attack.

“This guy did not flee by running over to Guyandotte. First of all, he didn’t jump in the river, and he didn’t hide out (in a house),” he said. “He went to two of the most populated places in the city of Huntington at this time.”

Sperry said Adkins had taken some responsibility in the fight, allegedly admitting to punching Daniels, but began to change his story when police told him his brother was believed to be dead. Sperry said Adkins had said he had broken the fight up and his brother and the victim shook hands before he left. Witnesses said Daniels had not moved after being struck by a brick while Adkins was at the scene.

Although Nessel argued the statement was given to police while his client was intoxicated, Frazier argued his answers were clear and concise.

“His answers, although the state challenges whether they were truthful, were appropriate responses to the questions,” she said. “There was reason to believe he had been drinking much earlier in the night, but not in some time. Even if he had, you can watch the video yourself; he was answering the questions and interacting.”

Jury selection is expected to take two hours, with opening arguments in the case occurring in the late afternoon.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

Update hourly