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Dual 2018 homicides, sparked by $500 debt, leave Roanoke man with 42 years to serve

Dual 2018 homicides, sparked by $500 debt, leave Roanoke man with 42 years to serve

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Two women took the witness stand Monday in Roanoke Circuit Court, daughters who each lost a father in the Oct. 30, 2018, attack that claimed the lives of Travis Jerrod Turnage, 37, and Jacob Sallah, 42.

“They say time heals, but in my experience time stands still,” Tyschana Turnage told the court, adding that she is just one of Travis Turnage’s six children.

“A monster took him away from us,” she said.

Sierra Sallah testified that she is the eldest of Jacob Sallah’s five children, and that she was tending to her own daughter one morning, nearly three years ago, when a sibling phoned to tell her that their dad had been gunned down the night before.

“It was one of the worst sounds I have ever heard,” she said through tears, and she asked the judge: “Keep in mind the family that he has left behind.”

At the close of Monday’s hearing, the man convicted of those slayings — Dominic Shantae Townes — was ordered to serve more than four decades in prison: twin 17-year terms for the second-degree murders of Sallah and Turnage, plus another eight for using a gun to commit those crimes.

Townes, now 33, was found guilty of the offenses in July 2019 during a two-day trial, at the end of which jurors asked that he receive 42 years. At Townes’ sentencing Monday, Judge David Carson said he saw no reason to deviate from the jury’s request. The punishment falls within the state’s sentencing guidelines, which in this case ranged from 28 to 47 years.

During the trial it emerged that the shootings, which happened at a home on Hanover Avenue in northwest Roanoke, were allegedly sparked by an argument over a $500 drug debt, reportedly owed to Sallah by a younger relative of Townes’.

A prosecution witness said Townes came into the house about 10 p.m., armed with two pistols, but he did not see the attack that followed, which occurred in a separate room.

At least four other people were also in the home during the confrontation, including a 5-year-old boy.

Although no one else was reported injured, the violence that occurred remains staggering.

According to medical examiner Dr. Amy Tharp’s testimony at trial, Sallah was shot six times, including rounds that passed through both his head and his heart. Tharp said Turnage’s autopsy revealed 17 internal bullet wounds and three grazings.

During the trial, Townes’ defense attorney pointed to limitations in the commonwealth’s circumstantial case, including the fact that no eyewitnesses saw him fire the shots, and no weapons were found nor gunshot residue detected when Townes was arrested a few hours after the attacks. No phone records or text messages documenting the dispute between Townes and Sallah were brought forward as evidence.

“This is, at bottom, a circumstantial case,” Seth Weston argued at Monday’s sentencing. Weston took over for Townes’ original attorney, who withdrew from the case in part because Townes had threatened her, it was revealed at a post-trial motions hearing. That dispute and the pandemic led to extensive delays in Townes’ sentencing.

Assistant prosecutor John McNeil has previously said that despite the circumstantial nature of the evidence “this is a strong case,” and on Monday he offered that the jury’s decision bore that out.

“[Townes] came there ready to kill,” McNeil said, and later added: “Mr. Turnage had a lot of people who loved him. Mr. Sallah had a lot of people who loved him. Their deaths leave a hole in a lot of people’s lives.”

Townes’ murder convictions also brought him additional time for past offenses. Two months after his jury trial, as a result of the verdict, he was found guilty of violating his probation on gun-related offenses from 2015, and for that he received eight years to serve, leaving him now with a half-century to serve.

He could still see more time added to his tally. He was additionally charged with possessing a firearm as a felon in the 2018 case, but that was severed from the other charges to avoid prejudicing the jury by revealing part of his criminal history. No date has been set for a trial on that charge, but a conviction could bring Townes up to five more years to serve.

It was unclear Monday whether he intends to challenge his convictions in the deaths of Turnage and Sallah, but if he chooses to do so he now has 30 days to file an appeal.

Contact Neil Harvey at neil.harvey@roanoke.com or 981-3376. On Twitter @newsharvey.

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