Caroline man convicted of attempted murder for shooting woman
A Caroline County man was convicted of attempted second degree murder for the September 1 shooting of a woman at a Carmel Church area gas station.
Judge Joseph Ellis also found 21-year-old Claudell Fells Jr. guilty of aggravated malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony just after 7 p.m. Wednesday night.
He faces a mandatory three years on the firearm charge, two to 10 years on the attempted murder charge and twenty years to life in prison on the aggravated malicious wounding charge.
A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Nov. 23.
According to testimony during the bench trial, the victim–a woman from Ruther Glen, her boyfriend and their sleeping 4-year-old daughter had stopped to pump gas at what was then a Chevron gas station along Rogers Clark Boulevard.
Several witnesses gave various details, but all agreed that a verbal confrontation occured between the boyfriend and two passengers in a red Grand Marquis that had pulled up to a neighboring pump.
Fells testified that the female victim, who he did not know personally, got out of her van, “came up to me and spit in my face. She was cursing at me.”
Fell’s cousin Austin Morris, whose charges were dropped in this case, stated that the spit landed in Fells’ eye and “was enough to see it drip and run down his face.”
In an hour-long recorded police interview, Fells said he snapped because it was rumoured that the woman was HIV-positive.
“I just blacked out,” he said in court Wednesday. “I shot her. It was just a reaction.”
Commonwealth Attorney Tony Spencer argued that the shooting was done with malice because the victim was shot in the back as she was walking away into the convenience store. No one else was hurt.
Two trauma surgeons testified that the bullet from the semi-automatic weapon “completely destroyed” her right colon and has caused complications involving her digestive system.
She was flown to VCU Medical Center, where she stayed for five days after the shooting and had to have part of her small intestines removed at Mary Washington Hospital in February after microscopic holes caused bowels to leak into her abdomen causing infection.
“This is what I have to deal with for the rest of my life where they cut me at,” the victim said while lifting up her shirt showing a long dark scar down her stomach and staring angrily at Fells. “When I push I feel everything. I’m 25 years old and I feel like an older person.”
She also testified that she has never been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.
After the shooting, Fells and Morris fled the scene on foot. The driver of the car they were in stayed on the scene.
Both were found a few hours later after a manhunt involving Caroline deputies, Spotsylvania County canine units and the Virginia State Police.
The gun used in the shooting has not been recovered, but Fells testified that he threw it in a pond.
Fells was originally charged with attempted first degree murder, but Defense Attorney James Maloney argued that the shooting was not premeditated because it was provoked when she spat on him.
The victim said she is glad that there was a conviction so she can try to move on with her life.
“If I could turn back the hands of time I would, but there’s no right for any man to hit a woman,” she said after court. “I’ve become a tremendously angry person because of this.”