FAYETTEVILLE — Emotionally spent family members on both sides responded stoically Thursday evening as jurors found Van E. White guilty of the felony charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death two years ago of Matthew Hundley.

White, 24, faces 3 to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on Oct. 13, Fayette County assistant prosecutor Brian Parsons said.

Circuit Judge John Hatcher revoked White’s bond and he was calmly led from the courtroom in handcuffs. The Oak Hill man was taken to Southern Regional Jail to await sentencing.

The jurors, who deliberated 21/2 hours following two days of trial, meted out to White the second-worst outcome possible for him — exceeded only by second-degree murder. Their other options included not guilty and involuntary manslaughter.

Underscoring the security concerns surrounding the hostile atmosphere between the two families, seven sheriff’s deputies were on hand during the reading of the verdict, and Hatcher ordered the families to leave the courtroom afterward through separate exits.

“I respect the hard work that the jury performed,” a dejected Inge said afterward.

“I’m disappointed. We will do all we can to overturn their verdict, and I may very well file a motion for a new trial. I don’t know.”

Inge twice moved for a judgment of acquittal, deeming the state’s case a “complete failure.” Hatcher denied both of them, stating that prosecutors had sufficient circumstantial evidence.

Parsons refrained from overt jubilation, emphasizing it was not a prosecutor’s duty to convict but to ascertain justice.

“A prosecutor’s job is not to win but to ensure that there is a proper opportunity for a just verdict to be rendered,” he said.

“This jury put a lot of effort and attention into this. You have to believe that circumstances were right for what I consider to be a just result for the Hundley family. Personally, I am very pleased. I think the appropriate verdict was reached.”

Josh Hundley, one of Matthew’s brothers, could be seen afterward shaking Parsons’ hand before departing the courthouse.

White was indicted in January on a murder charge in the May 2004 death of the 20-year-old Hundley.

Hundley, also of Oak Hill, was found dead in a stream below an abandoned railroad bridge near the New River at Cunard. He had been camping with a group of friends at Cunard Fisherman’s Trail. People in the group had reported him missing around 1 a.m. on May 22, 2004.

Authorities originally thought Hundley fell to his death from the bridge, but later accused White of either pushing or causing Hundley to fall.

- - -

Earlier Thursday, jurors saw the prosecution rest its case and the defense conduct the entirety of its argument. That was followed by impassioned closing arguments from both sides.

“The state is asking you to guess and speculate because they have no evidence, none whatsoever,” Inge thundered.

“The state can’t even prove this was a homicide. As far as we’re concerned, this was a terrible accident. The only reason my client is here is because Josh Hundley says he did it.”

Josh Hundley testified Wednesday his brother and White got into a heated argument away from the camp site after White tore a zipper on a tent the victim had just purchased.

Parsons, while conceding his case was based on circumstantial evidence, asserted the state’s theory of what happened was plausible.

“Two men left together (White and Matthew Hundley). Only one of them came back (to the camp site) and is sitting in the courtroom today,” he insisted.

“An absence of physical evidence speaks volumes. Crimes conceived in hell are not witnessed by angels. The guilty flee when no man pursueth. These are tragic and awful cases. An opportunity for the joys of life is gone for Matthew Hundley. Who was with him when he died? No one.”

Adding a dramatic touch to the argument, Parsons mimicked the footsteps of Josh Hundley, frantically searching for his brother on the bridge above, by knocking on the podium, stating those steps and the honking of a car horn might have been the last sounds the deceased Hundley heard.

- - -

Dr. James Kaplan, the state’s chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Hundley’s body, testified Thursday the cause of death was drowning, conceding Hundley could have survived the fall itself had he received immediate medical assistance. Kaplan said he found injuries to Hundley’s head and left side of the body consistent with a 25-foot fall.

He ruled the death “undetermined” and added Hundley’s blood alcohol level at the time of death was 0.18 — more than twice the legal driving limit.

“That would be detrimental to judgment — the ability to sort out the proper course of action in a complex set of circumstances,” Kaplan explained under cross examination. “A person with that blood alcohol content could become drowsy and have lessened motor skills.”

— E-mail: mhill@register-herald.com

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you