NEWPORT NEWS — After deliberating for an hour and a half, a 12-member federal jury on Wednesday found a Newport News man guilty of seven of eight charges in the 2007 slaying of longtime Hardee's employee Dianne Green.
The jury in U.S. District Court began deliberations about 2:30 p.m. and handed down their verdict just after 4 p.m.
They found Anthony Lee Wainwright, 26, guilty of being one of two masked men who entered the Hardee's on Denbigh Boulevard about 5:23 a.m. on Sept. 8, 2007. Wainwright was accused of killing Green by shooting her in the back of the head at close range — even as she and two other Hardee's employees complied with the robbers.
During the trial, prosecution witnesses testified Wainwright told them that he killed Green after the mask slipped from his face and he realized that Green recognized him from church. Wainwright and Green once served together as ushers at a Denbigh church.
The jury found Wainwright guilty of murder with a firearm in a violent crime; killing of a witness — Green — to prevent communication with law enforcement; conspiracy to obstruct commerce by robbery; interference with commerce by robbery; being a felon in possession of a firearm; discharging a firearm in a violent crime; and brandishing a firearm in a violent crime.
The killing of a witness charge carries a mandatory life term. Wainwright also faces the potential of life on some of the other charges when he's sentenced July 22 by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith.
The jury found Wainwright not guilty on the charge that he tried to solicit the murder of a witness in the case. That charge, which was added to the indictment after the other charges, pertained to the allegation that while locked up in jail, Wainwright asked a fellow inmate to find someone to kill a former friend who was expected to testify against him, saying he would try to pay him $1,000.
The death of Green, 47 — a beloved Hardee's employee who worked at the restaurant for 16 years — led to a community outcry when it occurred three and half years ago. Her slaying led to billboards asking "Who Shot Dianne Green?" with rewards of $30,000 being offered for information on the robbery. The Hardee's restaurant shut down for a week.
Two years later, in mid-2009, Newport News police began making arrests. Later came the startling revelation that Green knew one of the men accused of killing her.
One conspirator, Marvin L. Dunn, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Another man, Henry Stapleton, pleaded guilty earlier this year, admitting to entering the Hardee's and robbing it along with Wainwright. A third man, Michael Johnson Jr., pleaded guilty on the eve of trial, and testified for the prosecution. Dunn also testified. Stapleton and Johnson both also face the potential for life in prison.
Wainwright's father, Art Wainwright, and mother — both present at the trial in recent days — declined to comment to the Daily Press.
During three days of testimony, the jury heard from several people who pinpointed Wainwright as the shooter. That included Johnson and Dunn; two other women who said they were told of the shooting; and inmates who said Wainwright confided in them or they overheard his testimony.
An attorney for Wainwright, Lawrence H. Woodward Jr., told jurors during his closing argument that the government had failed to prove its case, and that the word of the others simply wasn't enough to convict. "Everyone agrees this was a senseless killing," Woodward said. "But it would be just as senseless to convict based on what the government has brought you here."
Woodward voiced surprise that Stapleton, who admitted going into the Hardee's with Wainwright during the robbery, never testified. "Why didn't the government put him on the stand?" Woodward asked. "If he had testimony that would have helped them, then he would have been here to tell you about it."
"They have no gun, no fingerprints, no DNA," Woodward scoffed. "They have talk … If you find one piece of physical evidence, then you're looking at something that hasn't come out in this courtroom."
Woodward said that other conspirators, such as admitted gun provider Dunn and admitted getaway driver Johnson, were not worthy of being believed, even in light of plea agreements that require them to testify truthfully or lose any chance at leniency for their testimony. "Does it make sense that these guys who commit these violent robberies, because they sign a piece of paper, now (suddenly) they say, 'The only thing I want to do in my life is just be honest'?"
Wainwright "didn't have the fundamental restraint, the moral and human decency, not to kill Dianne Green," said Managing Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Zlotnick. Speaking of Green, Zlotnick said, "We would have had an eyewitness, but for him."
"Anthony Wainwright brutally murdered a hard-working employee of Hardee's Restaurant, whose life centered around her love of both her job and her church," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride, the top federal prosecutor overseeing Virginia's Eastern District, said after the verdict. "That Wainwright killed Dianne Green because she recognized Wainwright from her beloved church makes this killing even more loathsome."
"He shot her because she saw his face," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa McKeel told the jury in her closing argument. "He killed her to get rid of her. He didn't need a witness to this robbery."
McKeel said that Green, as a devout Christian and "loyal Hardee's employee," was likely to tell police who the robber was. "He wanted to stop her from telling on him," McKeel said.
The witnesses' testimony during the trial was not always consistent. For example, it differed on points such as whether both Stapleton and Wainwright had a gun, or when they were told that Green had been killed, or the timeline of events. But while Woodward highlighted those inconsistencies as being a problem, Zlotnick called them natural given people's fallible memories.
Calling Wainwright "guilty as sin," Zlotnick called Woodward's statements a "diversionary argument," and "a red herring … used to get the hounds off the scent."
The case was investigated by the Newport News Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The government was represented by Zlotnick, McKeel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian J. Samuels. Wainwright was represented by two court-appointed attorneys, Woodward and Emily M. Munn.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun