Duncan Meekins, Briley Brothers Gang Member, Denied Parole in Virginia

Started by Moh, May 14, 2009, 01:18:57 PM

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May 14, 2009, 01:18:57 PM Last Edit: August 17, 2009, 08:49:13 PM by Jeff1857
Officials seek release for Briley brothers accomplice

Published: May 13, 2009

Thirty years after Richmond's bloodiest, perhaps cruelest murder rampage, key prosecutors and a lead detective in the case say they are seeking the prison release of a man who helped begin and end the killings.

"Sometimes you have to make a deal with the devil," said Robert J. Rice, one of two prosecutors who put the infamous Briley brothers gang, suspected in as many as 20 murders, behind bars. Two of the three brothers were executed.

Rice and veteran prosecutor Warren Von Schuch now say they are miffed that Duncan Eric Meekins, the key witness who brought down the Brileys, remains behind bars.

In a reversal of roles for both, Rice and Von Schuch are set to meet next month with Virginia Parole Board officials to plead for Meekins' release, a promise made to Meekins and his family when he agreed to testify against the Brileys decades ago.

They will be joined by retired Richmond police detective Norman Harding, a gruff veteran of at least 50 homicide investigations who personally arrested Meekins in 1979 in a traffic stop.

The arrest ended the Brileys' reign of terror in Richmond.

"Without Duncan Meekins, none of this happens and more people die," Von Schuch said of the prosecutions.

. . .

Meekins, a neighbor of the Briley family on Fourth Avenue in Highland Park, was taken under the Briley brothers' wing and ordered to kill. He is believed to have personally killed two of the Briley victims and raped another, a pregnant woman murdered by James Briley.

Meekins participated in, or was present for, most of the 11 killings that could be verified, according to Von Schuch, Harding and Rice.

"He was 16 at the time, and he was easily led and manipulated," Von Schuch said of Meekins, who sang in his church choir and attended John Marshall High School.

Von Schuch, Harding and Rice said Meekins, under pressure from his family and promises of leniency from prosecutors, was singularly responsible for convictions of the Brileys and their death sentences.

In hours of interviews shortly after his arrest, Meekins gave investigators details of butchery, rape and murder that took the lives of an unpatterned spectrum of people: from a 5-year-old boy and his parents in North Side; to a nurse who lived alone in Keswick Gardens in Henrico County and whose head was battered beyond recognition; to a popular DJ named Johnny Gallaher, whose body turned up in the James River at Mayo Island.

The effort to free Meekins, who is now in his mid 40s, comes 25 years after James Briley and his brother Linwood orchestrated the largest successful escape from death row in U.S. history.

The May 31, 1984, escape froze Richmond-area residents in fear and hinged on years of lax conditions on death row within the state's Mecklenburg Correctional Center near the North Carolina border, a facility once heralded as escape-proof.

Six death-row inmates, including the two Brileys, escaped after overpowering guards and exiting the prison by staging a bomb hoax.

In fact, the bomb was a television set carried on a stretcher and covered with a sheet. One of the escapees "cooled" the device with blasts from a fire extinguisher.

All of the escapees were caught and eventually executed. A third Briley brother, Anthony, was incarcerated in another prison at the time and is serving a sentence of life plus 139 years.

. . .

Rice and Von Schuch said Meekins has been held for 30 years at undisclosed prisons outside Virginia for his safety under an assumed name. They refused to provide other details, saying to do so would jeopardize his life.

"He's not just a snitch -- he put people in the electric chair," said Von Schuch, one of the state's most dogged prosecutors. Eleven men in Virginia have been executed based on convictions won by Von Schuch, who still works as a special prosecutor for the Chesterfield County commonwealth's attorney's office.

"But the commonwealth must live up to its promises," he said.

Meekins was spared death in exchange for his testimony and received a sentence in Richmond -- life plus 80 years -- fashioned by prosecutors to assure his eligibility for parole in 12 to 15 years.

At the time of sentencing, Meekins was subject to laws that allowed consideration of parole for convicted murderers after about 15 years. Later, parole was abolished for crimes that occurred on or after Jan 1, 1995.

Rice and Harding spoke with a state Parole Board representative a year ago but were stunned, they said, that there seemed to be no acknowledgment of the mitigating circumstances of Meekins' case. It could not be determined yesterday whether Meekins had been formally considered for parole prior to last year.

"There was just this sense that no one really had any idea of the role that Meekins played," said Rice, who now works as a defense attorney.

Now Rice and Von Schuch will meet with parole officials next month to press Meekins' case again. Harding is arranging a meeting as well.

They describe Meekins as having a trouble-free prison record; he has gained a high school equivalency degree and has learned multiple trades.

Family members declined requests to talk with reporters from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Rice said he took up Meekins' case after Meekins' lawyer, Ralph Robertson, who later became a judge, died in March 2006.

He received a call from a relative of Meekins asking for help and said he was shocked to learn that Meekins hadn't been released.

Meekins already has served twice the amount of time prosecutors expected, Rice said. He said Meekins apparently has been short-changed by no-parole laws enacted a decade ago and an unwillingness by the Parole Board to be swayed by pleas for leniency.

"There could not be a graver injustice," Von Schuch said, "than to have Duncan Meekins serve the same amount of time as Anthony Briley."

Contact Reed Williams at (804) 649-6332 or rwilliams@timesdispatch.com .

Contact Bill McKelway at (804) 649-6601 or bmckelway@timesdispatch.com .

March, April, July 1979: Two attempted murders and three murders in Richmond and Henrico County are linked to one or more of the Brileys, but prosecutors decline to bring the cases to trial.
Sept. 14, 1979: Disc jockey John Harvey Gallaher is shot to death in South Richmond.
Sept. 30, 1979: Mary J. Wilfong, 62, is beaten to death near the Shops at Willow Lawn.
Oct. 6, 1979: Blanche Page, 75, and Charles Garner, 59, are killed at their home in 3100 block of Fifth Avenue in Richmond.
Oct. 19, 1979: Harvey Wilkerson, 26, Judith Barton, 25, and their son, 5, are killed in their home in 2300 block of Barton Avenue.
Oct. 22, 1979: All three Brileys and Meekins are arrested in the Barton Avenue killings.
May 31, 1984: James and Linwood Briley lead the breakout of themselves and four other inmates from Mecklenburg Correctional Center's death row.
June 19, 1984: Brileys are captured in Philadelphia.
Oct. 12, 1984: Linwood Briley, 30, is executed in Richmond.
April 18, 1985: James D. Briley, 28, is executed in Richmond.
June 2008: Former Richmond prosecutor Robert J. Rice and Richmond detective Norman Harding ask a state Parole Board representative to consider Meekins' release. He has been serving a sentence of life plus 80 years for three murders and a robbery.
May 2009: Anthony Briley, now 51, continues serving life plus 139 years at Powhatan Correctional Center.
June 2009: Rice, Harding and special prosecutor Warren Von Schuch are scheduled to ask the Parole Board for Meekins' release.



I am moving this to Crime related news since this a parole hearing.  :-*

heidi salazar

June 17, 2009, 03:17:55 PM Last Edit: June 17, 2009, 06:31:26 PM by Jeff1857
Relative of slaying victims opposes release of Briley brothers' accomplice

By Reed Williams

Published: June 16, 2009

A relative of three people killed by the Briley brothers gang has asked the Virginia Parole Board not to release the brothers' accomplice when board members begin voting next week.

"I have not healed, nor will I heal, nor will I forgive," said Robert Jones of Southlake, Texas, adding that he will travel to Richmond if that's what it takes to make himself heard.

He said he often stayed with his relatives and easily could have been there the night they were killed in Richmond three decades ago.

Jones' adamant opposition to parole for Duncan Eric Meekins comes as the two prosecutors who won convictions of all three Briley brothers and Meekins plan to speak on Meekins' behalf at a meeting Wednesday with a member of the parole board.

Warren Von Schuch, still a Richmond-area prosecutor, and attorney Robert J. Rice will emphasize Meekins' role as the key witness who brought down brothers Linwood, James and Anthony Briley.

That will leave the parole board to weigh the impact of an especially ruthless set of crimes, with the fact that one of the killers has the unlikely support of the prosecutors who put him away.

The Briley gang, which included the three brothers and Meekins, killed at least 11 people in Richmond and Henrico County during a rampage in 1979.

Fear again seized the area in 1984 when James and Linwood Briley led the largest successful escape from death row in U.S. history. They were captured after 19 days and later executed.

After police arrested all four gang members in October 1979, Von Schuch and Rice promised Meekins, in exchange for his testimony, that the prosecutors would support him when he came up for parole.

. . .

Meekins, who was sentenced to life plus 100 years, has been imprisoned for nearly 30 years -- much longer than the prosecutors thought he would serve.

In the 1990s, parole was abolished for crimes that occurred on or after Jan. 1, 1995. The last killings attributed to the Briley gang took place Oct. 19, 1979.

That night, Meekins shot and killed Jones' uncle, Harvey W. Wilkerson, and James Briley fatally shot Judy Diane Barton, who was pregnant, and also the couple's 5-year-old son, Harvey Wayne Barton, in their home.

Meekins and two of the Brileys raped Barton before she was killed, Von Schuch said.

When Jones was a boy, he used to stay at that home on Barton Avenue in North Richmond every summer. If Jones hadn't had tonsillitis in 1979, he said, he likely would have been killed there too.

Jones, 43, said the elder Wilkerson was like a father to him, and he thinks of him every day. He said he can't stomach the thought that one of the killers could go free.

While the two lawyers' position on Meekins' release is unpopular, they credit Meekins' testimony with stopping the killing rampage and say they likely wouldn't have won the two death-penalty convictions without their star witness.

"We can't just say, 'Give us this and we'll throw you to the wolves,'" Rice said. "It's not a popular view, but it's what it took to get what we needed."

. . .

Police arrested all four gang members three days after the triple murder on Barton Avenue. Soon after they were in custody, Meekins, then 16, started spilling details of numerous killings committed by the gang.

Anthony Briley, the youngest brother, avoided the electric chair because authorities had no evidence that he killed anyone. He is serving a term of life plus 139 years at the Powhatan Correctional Center.

The parole board has denied Anthony Briley parole 10 times, and he is up for consideration again later this year or early next year, said Michael M. Hawes, a member of the parole board.

Meekins, now 45, was convicted in Richmond and Henrico on three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of robbery. Although he was convicted for his role in three murders, he killed only one of those victims, authorities say.

Authorities say he also killed another man, Thomas Saunders, but he wasn't prosecuted on that case. The prosecutors didn't pursue every case.

Meekins is imprisoned in an undisclosed location outside Virginia under an assumed name. Those precautions were taken to protect him from other prisoners who might view him as a "snitch."

Members of Meekins' family have declined to comment. A family friend, Olga Jones, said, "They really talk about him a lot. They hope that he'll be able to get out soon."

Rice, now a criminal-defense lawyer, and Von Schuch, a special prosecutor in Chesterfield County, said Meekins has maintained good behavior and learned multiple trades in prison. They say it's unlikely he would kill again.

Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring said last week that the parole board should listen to the Briley-Meekins prosecutors, noting that Von Schuch is "certainly not regarded as an offenders' rights" prosecutor. Eleven men have been executed on convictions won by Von Schuch.

"I can fully understand how Meekins' assistance would have been integral to the success of that prosecution," Herring said. He added, "No one wants to be seen as soft on any murderer."

. . .

Phyllis Rother is married to the nephew of another victim, Blanche Page. Linwood Briley bludgeoned to death the 75-year-old Page and also killed Charles W. Garner in their North Richmond home on Oct. 6, 1979. Meekins was convicted of murder in Garner's death.

"It's hard to say if he should be released or not," said Rother, 83, of Salem, N.H. "What if he went back to the old ways? It's been quite a few years, so maybe he has grown older and maybe he's wiser."

The parole board has denied Meekins parole six times from 1993 until his most recent hearing in 2008, Hawes said. Rice and a retired Richmond police investigator spoke on Meekins' behalf to a parole board member in 2007, Hawes said.

Board members vote on cases after a parole examiner interviews a prisoner and forwards the results of the interview to the board. The board also considers findings provided by a prison counselor.

The parole board's members, who are appointed by the governor, will finish voting on Meekins' case within about a month, Hawes said. Four of the five members must agree to grant parole for Meekins.

"These were absolutely horrible, horrible crimes," Hawes said. "Almost unthinkable crimes."


heidi salazar

August 17, 2009, 08:33:13 PM Last Edit: August 17, 2009, 08:58:57 PM by Heidi
BRILEY BROTHERS: More victims' kin say they oppose parole for Meekins

By Reed Williams

Published: June 27, 2009

REPORT: Briley Brothers

More relatives of victims in a triple murder committed by one of the Briley brothers and accomplice Duncan Eric Meekins are opposing parole for Meekins.

Shurrane Webb, whose sister Judy Diane Barton was killed along with her boyfriend, Harvey W. Wilkerson, and their 5-year-old son in Richmond on Oct. 19, 1979, contacted the Virginia Parole Board this week. Webb said she is writing a letter to the board opposing Meekins' parole, which is under consideration.

"Who's to say he won't get out of here and do it again?" Webb said.

Webb, 44, of Greensboro, N.C., said she remembers watching from a police detective's car as black body bags were removed from Barton's house in Highland Park two days after the killings. Webb had just gotten home from church.

"Those are just memories, memories, memories," Webb said. "They will always haunt me."

The notorious Briley gang -- which included Meekins and brothers Linwood, James and Anthony Briley -- murdered at least 11 people in the Richmond area in 1979.

Meekins was 16 when he and the Brileys were arrested, the day after police discovered the bodies on Barton Avenue. The teenager quickly began cooperating with authorities and ultimately would become the prosecution's key witness.

In exchange for his testimony against the Brileys, prosecutors Robert J. Rice and Warren Von Schuch told Meekins they would speak on his behalf when he was up for parole. They say he testified truthfully and has behaved well in prison.

Rice, now a criminal defense attorney, and Von Schuch, still a Richmond-area prosecutor, met June 17 with Rudolph C. McCollum Jr., a former Richmond mayor who sits on the parole board. The two attorneys emphasize that Meekins' testimony enabled the capital-murder convictions of Linwood and James Briley and probably stopped the killing rampage.

Linwood and James Briley staged the nation's largest successful escape from death row in 1984, but they were captured after 19 days and later executed. Anthony Briley is serving a term of life plus 139 years.

Meekins, now 45, has served nearly 30 years in prison and is being held out of state under an assumed name for his protection. He has been denied parole six times since 1993.

Meekins was sentenced to life plus 100 years in prison for his role in two murders and two robberies and for fatally shooting Wilkerson. Authorities say Meekins killed another man, but they didn't prosecute that case.

Meekins and two of the Brileys raped Barton, who was pregnant, before James Briley shot her four times in the head, killing her. James Briley also shot and killed the couple's son, Harvey Wayne Barton.

Barton's mother, Shirley B. Archie, 72, said she had a nervous breakdown about three months after the murders. She recalls sitting in a courthouse hallway crying as she waited to testify at one of the hearings, when Meekins' mother approached her.

Meekins' mother told her Meekins was sorry and that the Brileys had made him take part in the slayings, Archie said.

Archie said she has prayed for Meekins and his family. "I don't think he should make parole, although he's somebody's child, too," Archie said.

Webb said, "If I don't forgive them, then God won't forgive me of my sins. But I will never, never, never forget."

Members of Meekins' family have declined requests to be interviewed.

Four of the parole board's five members must agree to free Meekins. They are expected to finish voting within the next few weeks.


heidi salazar

Briley gang member Duncan Meekins denied parole

By Reed Williams

Published: August 14, 2009

SPECIAL REPORT: Briley Brothers

Citing the seriousness of his crimes, the Virginia Parole Board denied parole to Duncan Eric Meekins, the accomplice who turned state's witness 30 years ago against the notorious Briley brothers.

The Briley gang -- made up of Meekins and Briley brothers Linwood, James and Anthony -- murdered at least 11 people in the Richmond area in 1979.

Victims' relatives were relieved by the decision, but an attorney who prosecuted the Brileys and Meekins suggested that Meekins must be asking himself why he cooperated with authorities. He has been imprisoned for nearly 30 years and now has been denied parole seven times since 1993.

"Thank you," said Robert Jones, a relative of three people killed by the Briley gang, when told last night of the decision. "I'm thanking them for making the right decision."

Meekins killed Jones' uncle, Harvey W. Wilkerson, and James Briley killed Wilkerson's girlfriend, Judy Diane Barton, and also the couple's 5-year-old son, Harvey Wayne Barton, in Richmond on Oct. 19, 1979.

Meekins and two of the Brileys raped Barton, who was pregnant, before she was shot and killed.

Barton's sister, Shurane Webb, of Greensboro, N.C., said she was glad Meekins is not being released.

Webb said she had prayed, telling God, "'Only you know if he has changed. If he has changed, free him. If he has not . . . ' It was totally up to God."

Robert J. Rice and Warren Von Schuch, both of whom prosecuted the Briley gang, had spoken to parole board officials in support of Meekins, as had retired Richmond police Detective Sgt. Norman A. Harding.

They say Meekins' testimony against the Brileys enabled the convictions of all three brothers. Linwood and James were executed within a year of their escape from prison in 1984, the largest death-row breakout in U.S. history. Anthony Briley remains behind bars.

Rice and Von Schuch told Meekins from the outset that, in exchange for his truthful testimony, they would advocate for him when he came up for parole.

Rice said yesterday that Meekins might have been better off had he kept his mouth shut.

"What benefit has he gotten?" Rice asked yesterday. "If I were Duncan Meekins, I'd have to wonder why I did what I did."

Meekins, now 46, was sentenced to life plus 100 years for his role in two murders and two robberies and for fatally shooting Wilkerson.

Rice emphasized he does not condone the crimes Meekins committed, but he would have expected Meekins to have been released after 12 to 15 years.

In the 1990s, parole was abolished for crimes that occurred on or after Jan. 1, 1995. The last killings attributed to the Briley gang were those of Wilkerson and his family in 1979.

Referring to the parole board, Von Schuch said: "It's their decision, and they're doing their job and they make appropriate decisions." A city prosecutor at the time, Von Schuch now is a prosecutor in Chesterfield County.

Harding, the retired detective, said he believes Meekins should have been granted parole. "There are so many out on parole that should still be in there," he said.

Relatives of Meekins have declined to comment. He is incarcerated outside Virginia under an alias for his protection.

The parole board reached its decision July 26, but officials did not confirm the results until yesterday.

Four of the board's five members would have had to agree to free Meekins. Board member Michael M. Hawes declined yesterday to discuss how he and the other members voted. Attempts to reach other board members were unsuccessful.

Meekins will be up for parole again next year.


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