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Jury returns split verdict in Franklin County murder trial

Qu'Shawn Manns courtroom

Qu’Shawn Tyler Manns during a Franklin County court hearing in 2021.

In a split verdict Friday, a Franklin County jury convicted 22-year-old Qu’Shawn Tylek Manns of taking part in a deadly home invasion but declared itself deadlocked on the question of whether Manns was the one who fired the gunshot that killed the victim.

Manns, of Franklin County, argued he wasn’t part of the fracas and had no idea that others were scheming to rob 20-year-old Justin Chase Prillaman, a close childhood friend, of drugs, guns and money during the early morning hours of July 14, 2020.

Prillaman was found by investigators on the floor of his basement apartment shot in the back of the head. His younger brother, 18-year-old James Matthew Prillaman, was also shot while trying to help his brother but survived.

Six young men were charged in the case. Manns, who said he was home alone that night, is the fourth to be convicted and was the first to go to trial.

Three of his co-defendants testified against him, and said it was Manns who hatched the plan and went into the house alone to lure out Justin Prillaman.

The others were laying in wait outside when they said they heard a single gunshot. Manns came running out, and said he had fired a bullet into the head of the friend that many of them called J.P.

The defense denounced that account as a lie calculated by the others to deflect suspicion for the most serious crime and angle for leniency in their own cases.

One co-defendant backed up Manns, and said he drove Manns home hours before the robbery. In doing so, he also asserted that he, too, was innocent, disavowing both the testimony of his grandmother and the details of a plea agreement that he struck last year and is serving a 15-year prison sentence for.

In the end, a 12-person jury concluded Manns was part of the home invasion, convicting him of 12 felonies dealing with robbery and gun crimes.

But it said it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the two most serious charges of first-degree murder and use of a gun in a murder.

The jurors, after their first day of deliberations Wednesday, had signaled they were struggling to reach consensus on two charges that weren’t specified at the time. Judge Tim Allen asked if they felt a second day of deliberations could help. Eleven said yes at the time but one said no.

Thursday’s deliberations were recessed early for reasons not specified by the court. In all, the jury caucused for about eight hours before announcing its decisions Friday morning. They were not polled about how they voted on the murder-related charges, and the final split among them on those counts is unknown.

Allen declared a mistrial on the two undecided charges, and set sentencing on the others for April 6.

Commonwealth’s Attorney A.J. Dudley didn’t immediately announce whether he would retry Manns for the fatal shooting. The prosecution would assess its options, he said, and notify the court of its decision.

Defense attorney Perry Harrold said he felt there was a measure of vindication in the verdict for his client. Jurors did not believe he had killed his friend.

Harrold notified the court that he would be filing a motion to set aside the guilty verdicts in the other offenses. That is not an unusual step in such matters.

Emotions ran high at times over the course of the weeklong trial. During closing arguments, Justin Prillaman’s mother collapsed, weeping, into the arms of someone next to her as prosecutors drew the jury’s attention to a tattoo on Justin Prillaman. It was a single word: Family.

Earlier, near the end of the second day of proceedings, words were exchanged between loved ones of Prillaman and Manns in the courtroom balcony where the public was seated as part of covid precautions. The groups were separated with no further incidents.

On Friday, the mood in the courtroom was subdued as the jury confirmed its mixed decision. Manns kept a stoic expression but, before being led away, turned to the gallery to look at his family and the mother of his young daughter, a child he’s never met as she was born after his arrest. He mouthed something to them as some family members quietly cried.

The senselessness of the 2020 shooting was a reoccurring theme in the trial. The young men arrested, who knew one another from their school days, were as young as 19 and no older than 22 at the time.

Some of them were also friends with Prillaman, and some said they had never taken part in a robbery before. But all who confessed to signing onto the plan suggested they gave little thought to it when asked if they wanted to roll out and raid a house where they thought they could scoop up marijuana, firearms and possibly cash.

“Maybe I should have taken my time and thought about it some more,” said Austin Lane, who testified he served as a lookout in the scheme. “It was definitely a dumbass decision on my part.”

The crew arrived at Prillaman’s house armed with guns but said no one was supposed to get hurt. Several ran when the shots were fired. Te’Sean Brooks was described as vomiting and crying after he shot Matthew Prillaman when the younger brother was awakened by the sound of the first gunshot and came down the hall to see what was happening.

Brooks has pleaded guilty in his case, and is awaiting sentencing. Matthew Prillaman was shot three times and lost consciousness. He could not identify the home invaders. No one tried to help him as he lay bleeding on the hallway floor.

Treavon Taylor, who was the first person arrested in the investigation that followed, said he had been too scared to try to help the Prillamans after the gunfire started.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen like that,” he said. “We weren’t supposed to kill anybody.”

In the fraught aftermath that followed, Taylor, who brought a pink 9mm handgun to the robbery, left his gun behind at the house of a friend where the group fled afterward. He said he was intent on going home and forgot about it. The friend’s mother found it under the couch the next day, and reported it to police.

The Roanoke Times has agreed not to name the third co-defendant who testified for the prosecution as he reported he had been threatened, not by Manns, but by other parties not specified in court.

Harrold, in cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses, seemed exasperated at times by the lack of more thoughtful explanation for why they did the things claimed and why they never considered that someone could wind up hurt.

In his closing arguments, he described them at one point as young people who had watched too much TV and glamorized guns.

Manns testified that he owned no guns. He said he didn’t drink or do drugs outside of marijuana.

He struggled to explain why he hung out with people like his co-defendants. They had gone to school together, he said, and were bonded by their use of pot. “We kept each other company.”

He acknowledged they made videos, overlaid with rap music, that featured them flashing guns. Manns said the guns that he could be seen holding belonged to others.

His attorney asked why he took part in the videos. Manns said they had no larger meaning. He was “just following the trend,” he said .

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