APPOMATTOX — Christopher Speight will die in prison.
That was the decision of a judge Friday, after Speight killed eight people at his Appomattox County home in January 2010.
The Spout Spring man pleaded guilty in Appomattox County Circuit Court and was sentenced to serve five life terms plus 18 years.
The plea deal satisfied some family members, but outraged others who wished to see payment in kind for the man who killed their loved ones in a crime that sent shockwaves through a quiet community known more for a historic reconciliation than for bloodshed.
Speight, 42, pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of capital murder, one count of attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer and five firearms charges. Two mental health evaluations deemed him insane at the time of the murders.
Speight admitted to shooting his relatives and their friends outside the house at 3030 Snapps Mill Rd., where he lived with his sister, her husband and their young child.
Ronnie Scruggs, father of 16-year-old victim Ronald “Bo” Scruggs, said after the hearing that Speight should have paid a higher price.
“He should be in that tree with a rope around his neck,” Scruggs said, motioning to a tree in front of the courthouse.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Darrel Puckett said after the hearing it would have been difficult to secure a death penalty conviction, given the results of the mental health evaluations.
He said Speight told police he was instructed by an Egyptian princess named Jennifer to kill the first three victims, because “they were being used by demons to take over the earth.”
In addition to Bo Scruggs, Speight was charged with killing his sister, Lauralee Sipe, 38, her husband Dwayne “Shannon” Sipe, 38, and their 4-year-old son Joshua on Jan. 17, 2010.
Two days later, Puckett said, Speight gunned down the remaining five victims: Jonathan and Karen Quarles, both 43, their daughter Emily Quarles, 15, her friend Bo Scruggs, 16, and Lauralee Sipe’s daughter Morgan Dobyns, 15.
During an 18-hour standoff with local and state law enforcement, Puckett said, Speight fired at a helicopter flown by State Police Sgt. Don Childs, striking it seven times and forcing an emergency landing.
During the hearing, Kim Scruggs testified she has counted the days since her son, Bo Scruggs, was shot in the back on that quiet road — the seventh of Speight’s victims.
“One thousand, one hundred twenty-two days living without Bo’s physical presence has been emotionally crippling,” she testified before Halifax County Circuit Court Judge Joel Cunningham handed down his sentence.
Through tears, Scruggs lamented the moments she will never experience with her son — his senior pictures, registering his first vehicle, or watching him with his girlfriend, Emily Quarles, 15, also killed by one of Speight’s bullets.
“Never to see Bo grab Emily’s hand and skate backward to their favorite song … We look at a wall of silenced guitars never to hear him play again.”
She demanded Speight look at her as he sat silently with his defense attorneys.
Speight said nothing during the hearing except to enter his pleas and answer the judge’s questions, declining to give a statement.
Scruggs said the family takes comfort in knowing they will see their son with Jesus one day.
“That will be for eternity, which you cannot take from us,” she told Speight.
Scruggs ended with seven words for Speight, so numbered because her son was the seventh victim.
“May God have mercy on your soul.”
Puckett outlined the evidence that would have been presented had the case gone to trial.
He said Speight shot his brother-in-law and sister ten and eleven times respectively, then shot his nephew when Joshua ran out of his room. He shot Joshua twice more to put him out of his misery.
Puckett said Speight shot the other victims from a secluded location as they arrived at the house, because "Jennifer" told him they were coming to help the victims, whose bodies needed to rot so they couldn’t be used by demons.
Puckett entered into evidence five firearms, three of the .223 caliber rifles, a 9mm handgun, and a .308 caliber rifle, along with more than 60 cartridge casings, noting police also detonated and defused multiple bombs on Speight’s property.
He said Speight surrendered to law enforcement the morning of Jan. 20. He told the Bedford County tactical unit, “I was going to attack the police in 20 minutes,” before confessing to the shootings.
Sarah Dobyns, the step-grandmother of victim Morgan Dobyns, testified Friday, putting her remarks in the form of a poem, calling Speight “taker of young lives … full of lies.”
“One day, Christopher Speight, you’ll have to stand before God,” she said.
“You’ll try to make excuses … God is not so easily fooled.”
Meghan Durrett testified she didn’t learn that her sister, Emily Quarles, and mother, Karen Quarles, had been killed until well after she heard her stepfather, Jonathan Quarles, had been shot.
She recalled Jan. 19, 2010 as “the only day that I hadn’t heard from my mom in 24 years.”
Durrett said she spent hours after the shooting wondering why her mother hadn’t called.
“Dad had been shot. Where was she?”
She said she mourns her mother, who always wanted to be a grandmother but will never witness the birth of any grandchildren, and for her sister, who never got to see her 16th birthday.
“Me and my older brothers were supposed to teach her how to drive.”
Durrett ended her testimony telling Speight, “I hope you rot in hell.
The last to testify, Stephen Canard, the brother of Karen Quarles, called Speight’s crime “the most cowardly act any human being can do on this earth.”
He added he didn’t buy Speight’s claims of insanity.
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” he said.
“There is no Egyptian princess, Jennifer. There were no demons. Only good God-fearing people.”
He recalled his niece, Emily Quarles, as “the happiest little girl,” and lamented that his mother had to bury her daughter and granddaughter.
“They say God does forgive, but I hope he never forgives you,” Canard said.
After the hearing, Freddie Smith, Shannon Sipe’s stepfather, said he was satisfied with the outcome.
“I think with the circumstances, Mr. Puckett did a great job.”
He said Speight’s name “doesn’t mean anything” to him anymore, and the only thing he would say to the convicted murderer was “his mother Susan would be ashamed of him.”
Puckett said in a statement after the hearing that capital punishment would have been difficult to secure, since the two evaluations agreed Speight was insane at the time.
“It is of paramount importance that this community be protected from individuals who pose an imminent threat to the safety of its citizens,” Puckett said.
“This conviction and sentence of life without the possibility of parole provides that protection, and assures the man responsible for this tragic loss will never be released from prison.”
Puckett thanked law enforcement, and the families of the victims for their support and assistance.
“As we move forward, our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims and their family members as we remember those lost. I ask each of you to remember them also.”
Reached by phone after the hearing, Jonathan Quarles’ twin brother, Jeff Quarles, said he avoided the hearing, instead opting to take a trip with his son.
“I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be thinking about it,” he said, adding the anger he knew would be in the courtroom was a big reason he stayed away.
“My brother and I were very peaceful, fun guys,” he said.
Quarles said he was satisfied with the sentence, echoing long-held sentiments that he hopes his brother’s killer can find forgiveness.
“Being fed through a porthole the rest of his life … It’s going to give him a long time to think about what he did to everybody.”
Quarles said he considered the Egyptian princess an excuse, “bogus, total baloney,” and he was upset when he first heard of the plea deal last week, believing Speight’s punishment should have been “the people’s choice.”
But when he learned of the evaluations, Quarles said he believed the right thing was to secure the convictions, and to spare the families from a long trial.
He said, in the end, he won’t hold any anger toward Speight.
“If I was there today, I would have told him that I 100 percent forgive him, and I hope I see him in the end.”
Speight was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the three capital murder counts, one for killing more than one person in the same incident, one for killing more than one person within three years, and one for killing a victim under the age of 14.
He was sentenced to life in prison on the count of attempted capital murder of Childs, and for maliciously shooting in an occupied building resulting in death. He received eighteen years total for the four counts of use of a firearm in commission of a felony.