First Place Writing – Spot News


Life Behind Bars

Andrew McGill
Published in The Daily Collegian

Chisley guilty of murder with no chance of parole

LaVon Chisley sits in a squad car last Friday after the jury found him guilty of first- and third-degree murder.

LaVon Chisley remained impassive as the jury found him guilty of first- and third-degree murder Friday evening. It wasn’t until he was taken to the squad car that he broke down and cried, clutching his Bible.

The 10 women and two men on the jury, some tearful, each verified their agreement with the decision. The conviction, as mandated by Pennsylvania law, sentenced the former Nittany Lion football player to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Even presiding Centre County Judge Charles Brown choked up as he told Chisley he would spend the rest of his natural life in prison.

“I haven’t done that in such a long time,” he later told the court reporter. “I wasn’t ready myself.”

The guilty verdict in the trial for the June 2006 stabbing death of 26-year-old Penn State senior Langston Carraway came after four days of testimony, more than 200 pieces of evidence and nearly seven hours of deliberation. The families of the victim and defendant, sitting mere feet apart throughout the trial, both reacted emotionally, hugging their relatives and crying.

Defense attorney Karen Muir, also crying, cradled Chisley’s sobbing father’s head in her arms, repeatedly saying, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

For a lawyer who had spent as much time with her client as Muir had, not taking the verdict personally was impossible, she said. As the defense attorney, charged with presenting reasonable doubt to the jury, she tried throughout the case to explain away the prosecution’s admittedly circumstantial evidence.

Take the bloody glove found at the crime scene containing her client’s DNA, she said — it could have been left there months prior to the murder. Chisley testified he owned several pairs for handling his two pit bulls, and he and his dogs were frequent visitors to Carraway’s apartment.

As for the cell phone records that Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira said put Chisley in Carraway’s vicinity the night of the murder, Muir suggested that he could have been driving on nearby roads covered by the same tower on his way to a friend’s apartment.

“Questions without answers — suspicions without proof, evidence or facts,” she said in both her opening and closing statements. “That’s what this case is about.”

But where evidence at the crime scene may have been less than conclusive, multiple witnesses made statements flatly contradicting Chisley’s story. Madeira made a list throughout the trial, a list he showed to the jury during his closing statements: the names of the people who would have needed to lie to police in order for Chisley’s account of the incident to be true.

“Not a single witness corroborated any of the stories he had,” Madeira said. “His alibi is falling apart.”

Chisley testified he had spent the night of June 3, 2006, with former lover Jade Burges-Farrell, falling asleep after watching a movie at her apartment. But Burges-Farrell told the court under oath that while she and Chisley had hung out and smoked marijuana earlier in the evening, he definitely had not stayed the night.

Additionally, she testified that Chisley called her in late June and said he needed her to be his “alibi.” Chisley, under cross-examination by Madeira, said Burges-Farrell was lying on both points.

But as the jury’s deliberation Friday dragged on — with family members napping on courtroom benches and attorneys eating lunch together outside the courthouse — it appeared their decision came down to a set of bloody footprints found throughout the Patton Township apartment.

A police expert testified earlier that the prints’ size, tread and wear pattern matched those of a pair of sneakers, believed to be Chisley’s, found in the apartment’s upstairs bedroom. Madeira inferred that the shoes Chisley wore that night would have had a similar wear pattern, pinning him to the crime scene.

At 3:05 p.m. Friday, the jury requested to review the tape of the expert’s testimony. Most bowed their heads in concentration, intently listening to the muffled recording. About an hour-and-a-half after the tape’s conclusion, shortly after 6 p.m., they found 23-year-old Chisley guilty of murdering Carraway by stabbing and slashing him 93 times.

“That was the final linchpin they wanted,” Madeira said.

Muir, pulling herself together, said she firmly believes the evidence in the case supported a not guilty verdict. She added that she wasn’t sure if she would pursue an appeal, but would discuss the possibility with her client.

“I still maintain steadfast in my position that LaVon Chisley did not kill Langston Carraway,” she said.

But for Madeira, the racial expletive smeared on the wall of Carraway’s apartment in the victim’s blood — “N—– Die” — was enough to prove the opposite.

“The writing on the wall is evidence of [Chisley’s] intent to kill,” Madeira said. “What did he want? He wanted that n—– to die.”