RUSTBURG — A Lynchburg man was found guilty Thursday of voluntary manslaughter from shooting a man on Christmas Day in Campbell County.
Michael Lee Langford, 41, didn’t dispute pointing a 9mm pistol at 46-year-old Carlton Rosser Stratton and pulling the trigger three times that night. Testifying from the witness stand Wednesday during his two-day trial in Campbell Circuit Court, he said Stratton attacked him suddenly and Langford pulled out the gun thinking Stratton had a weapon in his hand.
Langford said he hitched a ride with another man to pick up Crystal Myers from a Cog Lane home that night. The two had been in an on and off relationship the previous two years, they both said at trial.
When Myers heard knocking on the door at 40 Cog Lane at about 9 p.m., she said she yelled to ask who it was and heard Langford reply. At the time, she was in the living room with Stratton, Stratton’s 4-year-old daughter and another man she was in a relationship with.
Although she said Langford and Stratton didn’t know each other prior to that night — a notion Langford echoed — she said Stratton announced he’d beat Langford up. When she opened the door, she said Stratton brushed past her and punched Langford, knocking him back onto the ground.
Myers said she stood near the doorway while Stratton moved in to punch Langford multiple times, then heard gunshots.
Langford later testified that Stratton only grazed his chin and knocked his hat off from the first swing, which sent him stumbling backward. He said none of the subsequent swings hit him, but he thought Stratton had something in his hand.
“He looked crazy,” Langford said. “… Like he was in a rage or something.”
Myers said Stratton appeared to be high on methamphetamine that night, and meth was found in his blood in an autopsy according to testimony from medical examiner Amy Tharp. Myers and Langford also admitted to using meth.
Stratton was hit in the wrist and twice in the chest, with one bullet passing through his hand, according to testimony. Langford fled the scene, catching a ride back to his aunt’s house and stowing the pistol under a bathroom sink, which investigators found later.
Deputies arrested Langford on Dec. 26, and he’s been in jail since.
The jury deliberated for about two and a half hours late Wednesday and Thursday morning, finding Langford guilty of voluntary manslaughter, downgraded from second-degree murder. The jury found him not guilty of using a firearm in commission or a murder.
Family members briefly testified to both Stratton’s and Langford’s character during the sentencing phase of the trial Thursday morning.
Stratton had numerous tattoos signifying a connection to the Aryan Brotherhood, including the words “White Power” on his chest above a swastika and iron cross and next to a Confederate flag. Another tattoo on his arm read “100% Peckerwood,” referencing what an expert witness said is a sub-gang within the Aryan Brotherhood.
Stratton’s family member said he got those tattoos while in prison for protection and insisted he had a “heart of gold.”
In arguments, Campbell County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Todd said he made “no excuses for how he [Stratton] lived his life,” but said Langford’s actions weren’t an appropriate response to a fistfight.
Defense attorney Jim Childress said his client shot out of fear for his life, telling the jury, “It’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.”
Stratton’s mother and sister asked the jury to look past his “rough exterior” and said he was trying to turn his life around. Todd questioned Langford about a past conviction of involuntary manslaughter in Lynchburg from 2003, where Langford was sentenced to six months behind bars. Langford said he punched that victim — his then-girlfriend’s brother, according to past articles from The News & Advance — once and he fell to the ground, which injured his head and killed him.
“I could’ve been the victim this time,” he said, adding he hasn’t been in trouble since then.
After about an hour of deliberation on Langford’s sentence, the jury recommended he spend five years behind bars. Five years is the minimum sentence for a second-degree murder conviction, the charge he was originally indicted on.
Campbell Circuit Court Judge John Cook will consider that recommendation at a future hearing that’ll be scheduled in September. Langford remains in jail at the Campbell County Adult Detention Center.