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Martinsville man pleads guilty to amended charge in 'Mother's Day Murder'
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Martinsville man pleads guilty to amended charge in 'Mother's Day Murder'

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An interwoven tale of two shootings and two dead men got another measure of closure in Martinsville Circuit Court on Wednesday, when a Martinsville man pleaded guilty to an amended charge in one of those shootings.

Corey Vershaun Johnson, 36, had been charged with first-degree murder and several related felonies in the drive-by shooting of Sean Goddard Jr., 20, of Axton, who died after being shot May 13, 2018, in Martinsville.

Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and Judge G. Carter Greer agreed to dismiss charges of first-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, shooting from a vehicle, reckless use of a firearm, shooting in a public place, shooting at an occupied building, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, conspiracy to commit murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Greer sentenced Johnson to 25 years in prison, with 10 years suspended, 10 years of supervised probation and 25 years of good behavior. He also must make restitution of $10,394.10.

Combined with the sentence Johnson is serving on drug and weapons charges from Henry County, he will have a total active prison term of 21 years and 6 months.

But the story winds through another shooting on New Year’s Day of the next year and a variety of other suspects and another victim before ending with this court appearance by Johnson.

Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Hall called the shooting death of Goddard the “Mother’s Day murder,” because the the events that cost Goddard his life occurred on Mother’s Day.

The 911 communications center received a call of shots fired around 12:43 a.m. in the 1000 block of Askin Street in Martinsville. Dispatchers advised that a man had been shot and was taken to the hospital by a private vehicle.

Martinsville Police Sgt. C.S. Boblett responded to the hospital and found Goddard, who had been shot multiple times. According to arrest warrants and criminal complaints, Goddard told police he had been shot by someone in a gray-colored vehicle while he was at a home on Askin Street.

Goddard died later that morning.

Meanwhile, the criminal complaint states, MPD Investigator Sgt. R.L. Ratcliffe responded to the crime scene and observed multiple holes in the residence at 1009 Askin Street that were consistent with bullet holes. A search of the house uncovered a 9mm shell casing and a 9mm whole bullet. Officers also collected multiple shell casings from the roadway and a vehicle, while also collecting three guns, according to the complaint and arrest warrants.

Ratcliffe’s criminal complaint stated the home on Askin Street was occupied at the time of the shooting.

“It is believed that he [Johnson] went to this location, along with the others, to specifically shoot at the residents because of a problem they were having,” Ratcliffe wrote.

But this all began because, Hall said, Brandon Tarall Thomas, 33, of Martinsville earlier had pulled a gun on Devontae Massey, 24, of Martinsville, and they decided to settle their disagreement by “fighting it out.”

So Massey and Goddard were waiting on Massey’s porch on Askin Street when Johnson, Thomas and Adrian Eugene Watkins, 28, of Bassett drove up in a rental car.

“Johnson had a rifle and fired three or four shots, Massey unloaded a clip in Johnson’s direction, Goddard died, and Massey was grazed,” Hall said. “We found the weapon. It [the rifle] looks like an AK 47. We found Johnson’s DNA on it and the shell casings fired by the shotgun.”

Even with six previous felony convictions against Johnson, Hall said he felt uneasy about trying the case.

“I’ve been doing jury trials a long time, and this is a 50/50 case,” Hall told Greer. “I do not take a case like this to trial if I can help it.”

Hall explained that Martinsville investigators intentionally did not reveal Johnson’s name to the media after the shooting, hoping that he would stay in the area, which he did.

Henry County authorities found Johnson two days after the shooting with a firearm and some cocaine.

Johnson was convicted of possessing cocaine and possession of a firearm by a violent felon and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with 8 years and 6 months suspended.

Then, on New Year’s Day, 2019, less than seven months after the shootout on Askin Street, Massey was involved in the shooting death of Rasheem Oshea Hairston of Eden, N.C., a former resident of the Martinsville area.

Massey was at a New Year’s party at 313 Clift St., according to a criminal complaint filed by Martinsville Police Sgt. Richard Ratcliffe, when witnesses said he had become agitated. Witnesses said they saw Massey with a gun. He “had an obvious problem with Hairston,” the complaint reported.

The complaint said that at about 1:20 a.m. the suspect is alleged to have fired his weapon from the street in front of the “occupied dwelling.”

Responding police reported finding Hairston dead at the scene.

Shortly afterward, police were called to a hospital for a man who had been shot. That man, Massey, was treated at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital for nonlife-threatening gunshot wounds, police reported.

Massey was arrested that day and is serving 8 years and 6 months in prison for the voluntary manslaughter of Hairston.

Massey was also Hall’s primary witness in the case against Johnson.

“The main witness has issues; he killed a man a few months later,” Hall said. “The jury might have qualms with a convicted killer, or he might be considered a snitch in prison and won’t testify.”

In the end, Hall told Greer the community needed a murder conviction against Johnson and that was what he was getting.

“Johnson is a danger,” Hall said. “I’ve been on the bad end of jury trials, but this means he’ll be off the streets for 25 years.

Thomas remains the only one to be tried in the shooting death of Goddard. He is scheduled for a 3-day jury trial on Sept. 20 in Martinsville Circuit Court.

Watkins in September pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon by a violent felon and was sentenced to 5 years in prison and payment of restitution of $10,394.10.

Johnson stood with his attorney while being sentenced on Wednesday, and Greer asked him if he had anything to say.

“I’m sorry I got in this mess,” Johnson said. “I would apologize to the family if they were here. I apologize, judge.”

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt.

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