A Charles Town, WV, man will spend the next two decades in prison after accepting a plea agreement for second-degree murder in the March 2019 shooting death of Jeffrey B. Evans.
On Monday morning in Clarke County Circuit Court, Dale Lee Wright, 51, accepted a plea for the lesser charge of second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony for his role in Evans’ death. Judge Alexander Iden sentenced Wright to 43 years and eight months for the second-degree murder charge and three years for the firearm charge, but suspended all but 21 years and 8 months. Wright had initially been charged with first-degree murder.
According to testimony presented during a December 2019 preliminary hearing, Wright made arrangements to meet with Evans, his former boss and friend, on the morning of March 17, 2019, in a gravel parking lot off Rt. 7, just west of the Loudoun/Clarke border. Statements to investigators indicated that Wright may have told Evans he would be arranging an introduction that morning between Evans and someone he knew who was selling an antique trailer. Evans, who owned Lenah Auto Body in Aldie, was an antique car enthusiast.
Once at the parking lot, a confrontation ensued between Wright and Evans, with Wright fatally shooting Evans. After briefly driving off and then crashing, Evans would ultimately succumb to his injuries. A report by the medical examiner stated that Evans was shot three times, once each in the chest, lower lip and the back of the head.
Wright was identified as a person of interest after dash cam footage from a passing car the morning of the shooting showed a car at the gravel lot matching one that belonged to him. Investigators also said Wright had been in to Evans’ shop earlier that week, and a search of his and Evans’ phones showed contact between the two in the days leading up to the murder. A search of Wright’s car at his sister’s West Virginia home produced a 32-caliber pistol and ammunition, and a bullet found in Evans’ body was determined to have been fired from that type of gun.
After Wright initially denied meeting Evans that day, he changed his story to investigators several times, before finally admitting he shot Evans, but claiming it was in self-defense.
Investigators believe there may have been a financial motive behind the crime, as court documents found in a search of his property showed Wright was $40,000 behind in child support payments, and had a court date on that arrangement scheduled for that week. If he was unable to produce $5,848 to the court that week, he faced a 180-day jail sentence, according to Clarke County Commonwealth’s Attorney Anne Williams. Evans was known to carry large amounts of cash, sometimes into the thousands of dollars, and a search of his car that morning produced approximately $7,000 in a pouch.
Wright was arrested and has been incarcerated since two days after Evans’ death.
Williams said Wright has never specified exactly what happened between he and Evans that morning. She said the commonwealth was comfortable in offering the plea deal to avoid a possible self-defense claim by the defendant. Williams also pointed out the inconsistent statements given by witnesses on the scene of the gravel lot that morning, with some saying Wright approached Evans, and others saying the opposite. There were also inconsistencies in the description of the person meeting Evans. Williams said Evans’ family was also satisfied with the terms of the plea deal.
Under questioning by Iden, Wright said he understood the terms of the plea agreement and admitted guilt to both charges. Upon his release from prison, Wright will be placed on supervised probation for 15 years, or until he reaches age 80.
Members of both Evans’ and Wright’s families were present in the courtroom Monday morning, both weeping occasionally. Sarah Evans, the victim’s daughter, read aloud a victim impact statement where she called her late father her “warrior” and said she had always been the quintessential daddy’s girl. She said her heart was shattered forever when authorities told her that her father had passed away.
“When my dad didn’t have my hand, he had my back,” she said. “He was a beautiful human being with the most generous heart. He was the one person everyone could truly count on. I’ll never be able to fathom how such a man could be taken from us. I’m left with a gaping hole to which I see no end. To have such a beautiful life be tainted by violence will forever haunt me.”
Evans said, although the pain of her father’s loss is still “unimaginable,” she prays everyday to “find a road to forgiveness” for Wright.
Wright declined to make a statement ahead of his sentencing. As part of the plea agreement, he agreed to meet privately with Evans’ family, with only defense counsel present. Iden emphasized that any statements made by Wright during that meeting about his interaction with Evans on the day of his death could not be used against him in a future legal proceeding, even if they would support a first-degree murder conviction.