The first of two defendants in a fatal shooting at a Salem convenience store has been convicted of a firearm felony.
Mark Allen Bell, 33, pleaded no contest Friday to one count of having a gun as a felon. He faces a mandatory minimum term of two years in prison when he’s sentenced later this year.
A second defendant, Demetrius Nathaniel Evans, 30, also of Roanoke, is charged with second-degree murder and using a firearm to commit a felony. Evans is scheduled to be tried in October in Salem Circuit Court.
The two men were arrested within days of a May 8, 2018, shooting outside the Go Mart on West Main Street, an attack that claimed the life of a 32-year-old Shawsville man, Anthony Joseph “A.J.” Trovata.
Soon after their arrests, Bell was charged with the killing, while Evans was considered an accessory after the fact and charged with attempted murder. But earlier this year, prosecutors revised those cases and indicted Evans on the murder count and Bell, instead, on a trio of gun charges.
Friday in Salem Circuit Court, Bell challenged those three accusations by pleading not guilty and taking his case to a bench trial.
Over the course of an hour, Salem assistant prosecutor Jessica Preston called four witnesses, including a detective, Sgt. Jacob Miller, who conducted a recorded interview Bell gave after being taken into custody.
Miller said Bell waived his Miranda rights, apparently “to tell his side,” and claimed that before the shooting occurred he had been trying to locate a friend who had a bag that belonged to him, a package he said reportedly contained methamphetamine and heroin, among other drugs.
Bell said when he and Evans tracked the woman down at the Go Mart shortly before 2 a.m., she was in the parking lot in a car with Trovata. Tensions were high, Bell told Miller, and he said that both he and Trovata had pistols in their hands when they began to scuffle.
Bell said his gun went off, striking nothing, and “it kicks out of my hand.”
He claimed that a subsequent gunshot, not fired by him, was the one that struck Trovata in the right side of his torso.
Bell and Evans fled the scene and Trovata was later taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead.
Miller said Bell described the weapons he claimed he and Evans had been carrying that night, and his directions led police to recover two handguns that had been ditched off West Riverside Drive, along the Roanoke River not far from the Go Mart.
“You see the gun I had in my hand, it’s not gonna match the ballistics” of the weapon that killed Trovata, Bell claimed.
Portions of Bell’s recorded interview were played in court. Soon after that, defense attorney C.J. Covati abruptly announced that Bell would enter into an agreement with prosecutors to plead no contest to felony gun possession and to also see two other weapons-related misdemeanors dropped — discharging a firearm and reckless handling of a gun.
Bell’s sentencing is set for Aug. 14.