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Scott woman gets 45 years in husband's 2012 murder

Nick Shepherd • Aug 7, 2014 at 3:56 PM

GATE CITY — A Scott County woman has been sentenced to 45 years in prison for the 2012 murder of her husband.

Melissa Justice Napier, 43, 4812 Possum Creek Road, pleaded guilty in 2013 to the charges of first-degree murder and defiling a body in the shooting death of Billy Ray Napier. She entered an Alford plea, in which the criminal defendant does not admit the act, but admits that the prosecution could likely prove the charge.

She was sentenced to 50 years, with 10 suspended, for the first-degree murder charge and five years for defiling a body. The sentences will run consecutively, giving her a total of 45 years, which she will serve in the Virginia Department of Corrections.

She was also ordered to pay $2,465 in restitution.

"The family is very happy and that's how we gauge how we feel about it," said Scott County District Attorney Marcus McClung. "How our victims feel is how we feel. They're pleased and they're happy to move on."

Melissa Napier shot her husband in the back of the head while he was being embraced by their daughter, Savannah. She left his body in their bedroom for the next three weeks and made excuses to family members concerning his whereabouts, eventually telling the family he died in a car wreck in Michigan.

Finally, Billy Ray Napier's son filed a missing persons report and the body was located in the home. Melissa Napier and Savannah Napier, 14 at the time, were charged with murder. Savannah Napier has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 6, 2015.

During Tuesday's sentencing hearing, Judge John C. Kilgore heard members of Billy Ray Napier's family testify, including his son. The defense presented only one witness on Wednesday, Dr. Thomas Edward Schacht, a clinical and forensic psychologist and professor at East Tennessee State University.

Schacht went through a marathon session on the witness stand. After Melissa Napier had already entered her plea, Schacht conducted a 2 hour interview with her, with an emphasis placed on whether she had been a victim of domestic violence.

Melissa Napier described her husband as an alcoholic who had been diagnosed with dementia. She told Schacht that he was controlling and violent, having choked her on multiple occasions, including when she was pregnant with Savannah.

Upon cross-examination, however, Schacht acknowledged much of what Melissa said could not be fact-checked. Billy Ray Napier did have a diagnosis of dementia from Mountain Home in Johnson City, and Melissa Napier had tried to kill herself and was being treated for mental illness, but that was the extent of the records presented to back up her claims.

After closing arguments, in which McClung said he couldn't think of a worse way to die and the defense attorneys begged for mercy from the court, Melissa Napier had a chance to speak to the court.

"First I want to say how sorry I am for what has happened," she said. "I want you and Bill's family to know that despite what happened I did love him."

She told the judge that her husband was controlling, but over their 17-year relationship she had become used to it. She called it being trained on how to be the wife he wanted — by driving the way he wanted and using the amount of water he said to use in the shower.

She said he was delighted when Savannah was born, but their relationship changed over time and Savannah had become scared of her father. She did not know why.

After she shot him on March 20, 2012, she said her first thought was to turn the gun on herself, but she heard her daughter's screams in the background and knew she needed to focus on her and get her away.

She also told the court that for the next three weeks, as her husband's body decomposed, she continued to go into the fly-infested yellow house to see him.

"I would often go in the house and talk to him," she said. "A lot of people can't understand why I left him in the house for three weeks. I'll tell you why I left him there. To have buried him or to have done anything to take him away, would have made it all too real. As long as I could see him, as long as I could just be there with him ... yes the smell was horrible, but my need to be with him overrode that. I got past it."

At the end of her remarks, Kilgore weighed all he had heard during the past two days. He said he had heard two very different versions of what happened — that of sweet Bill and tyrannical Bill — and he thought the truth probably fell somewhere in the middle.

He weighed Melissa Napier's credibility when talking about the domestic violence issue. She had previously lied to family, authorities and even her attorneys over the past two years. He then handed down the sentence of 55 years with 10 suspended.

McClung said the judge went over the guidelines given by the state when handing down the sentence, and he wanted to thank law enforcement officials for their efforts during the investigation.

"(Virginia State Police) Agent (Jason) Jenkins did a very good job with this," McClung said. "We always work with the sheriff's department and the state police. I'm very proud of the way they handled this case and the way we were able to bring it to a conviction of first-degree murder, which is what we charged, and get the sentence that we did."

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