The second of two men charged in a fatal shooting last year at a Salem convenience store has been sentenced to serve nine years in prison.

Demetrius Nathaniel Evans, 30, of Roanoke pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter Friday in Salem Circuit Court. It’s a move that came less than a week before he was scheduled to be tried by a jury on a charge of second-degree murder.

At Friday’s plea hearing, Evans was convicted of shooting and killing Anthony Joseph “A.J.” Trovata, 32, of Shawsville in the early morning hours of May 8, 2018.

The incident also involved Evans’ companion that night, Mark Allen Bell, 34.

Evans and Bell had been trying to locate Trovata when they found him in the parking lot of the Go Mart just off West Main Street.

Tensions were high and all three men were reportedly armed when Bell and Trovata began to scuffle, a dust-up that was caught on security video. During the brawl, two shots rang out and Trovata was hit once. He died later that night at LewisGale Medical Center.

Bell has claimed that his gun discharged by accident, while Evans said he fired in the air in an effort to break up the fight.

A witness inside the store told police they saw Bell drive away with Evans.

At Evans’ plea hearing, Salem assistant prosecutor Jessica Preston said a forensic examination of Trovata’s clothing and injuries suggested that the fatal shot came from farther away than Bell’s gun would have been at the time.

Evans was charged with second-degree murder, which carries punishments ranging from five to 40 years in prison, but through his plea agreement that count was reduced to manslaughter.

A related felony count of using a firearm to commit murder was amended down to misdemeanor reckless handling of a firearm, and Evans received 12 months in suspended time for that offense.

Evans’ defense attorney, Rachel Jackson, offered in court that both an eyewitness and the victim, before he died, said Bell fired the fatal shot, but said the plea agreement offered Evans the safest bet.

“Considering the risk of litigation ... we believe this outcome is in my client’s best interest,” Jackson said.

Testimony has shown that Bell had been trying to find Trovata that night because Trovata was with a woman, Angela Dawn Woolwine, who had a bag of drugs — including fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine — that belonged to Bell. Bell’s defense attorney, C.J. Covati, has said the two men were actually fighting over Woolwine.

Woolwine was charged that night with multiple counts of drug possession, but sentencing is still pending in those cases.

Evans and Bell drove away from the Go Mart together and got rid of their guns. A police interview Bell gave later that week led police to recover two handguns off West Riverside Drive along the Roanoke River.

Earlier this year, Bell pleaded no contest to having a gun as a felon, and a judge gave him 3½ years on that charge.

Evans will be on intensive probation for four years after his release. He will not be allowed to have contact with Trovata’s family, whom Preston said supported the plea agreement.

The Luger 9 mm handgun that reportedly belonged to Evans has been forfeited to police and will be destroyed, the judge said.

Recommended for you