Malcolm Orlando Witherow will be 100 years old before he’s eligible for parole.
On Thursday, a Hamilton County jury found the 49-year-old man guilty of premeditated first-degree murder in the shooting death of 31-year-old Melissa Hoover on Oct. 10, 2008.
Moments after the jury left the courtroom, Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern sentenced Witherow to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Under the law, he will be eligible for parole after 51 years.
Escorted out of the courtroom by deputies, Witherow waved at his sister, who was seated in the audience.
Five of Hoover’s family members stood leaning on each other, some crying, as the jury foreman read the guilty verdict.
Members of both families declined to comment on the trial.
It took the jury three hours to find Witherow guilty after a 21⁄2-day trial that started Tuesday.
Witherow testified in his own defense Thursday about the shooting at 7709 Short Tail Springs Road.
He claimed he remembered events minutes before the shooting and remembered leaving the scene, but he did not recall the actual shooting.
“Everything seemed like it was a dream to me,” he said.
Under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Brian Finlay, Witherow continued to deny any memory of the killing.
“You remember her body laying there on the side of the road, bleeding?” Finlay asked.
“Vaguely,” Witherow answered.
“You don’t remember that but you remember exactly what you were drinking, who you were drinking with?” Finlay asked. “But the only thing you don’t remember is killing Melissa Hoover.”
Witherow’s defense attorney, Justin Woodward, didn’t deny in his closing statement that his client killed Hoover, but argued that Witherow was drunk and did not plan the act. If prosecutors could not prove premeditation, jurors could have found Witherow guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a 15- to 25-year sentence.
Finlay and Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston brought witnesses to show that Witherow had told Connie Harrold, owner of the Short Tail Springs Road home, and her roommate, Tyler Baker, that he planned to retaliate against Hoover for cooperating in a drug investigation against him in 2005.
Testimony showed that Harrold, Witherow and Hoover were at the house and Hoover went outside to roll up her car windows. Witherow followed her. Moments later, Harrold heard gunshots. She went outside and saw Witherow chasing Hoover down the driveway.
Harrold rushed to get Baker, who was showering, and when she went back outside, she saw Witherow walk back up the driveway, get in his car and leave.
About 100 yards down the road, Hoover lay in a pool of blood, Harrold said.
A Hamilton County medical examiner testified that she had been shot six to seven times, including four times in the back.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...