Murder conviction nets man 23 years in prison

From Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office

Daniel Ray James, 53, was found guilty of 2nd Degree Murder, Arson and Using a Firearm in the Commission of a Felony.  He entered pleas pursuant to the Supreme Court case of North Carolina v. Alford.  He was sentenced to 40 years with 20 suspended on the Murder charge, 10 years concurrent on the Arson charge and 3 years to serve consecutively on the firearm charge for a total of 43 years with 20 suspended and 23 years to serve.  The court ordered that he shotgun used in the murder be destroyed.  James had been scheduled for a 3 day jury trial next week in Pulaski County Circuit Court.  Naomi Huntington represented the defendant.

“I would like to thank the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office for conducting a very thorough investigation that led to these convictions.  Over the last several months we have met with the family of the victim and they were supportive of this agreement that will result in effectively a life sentence for Mr. James,” said Mike Fleenor, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Pulaski County.

During the hearing, Fleenor was requested to recite the Commonwealth’s evidence:

On July 20, 2016, a fire was discovered at a house located in Pulaski County off Route 100.  By the time fire fighters arrived the house was completely engulfed in flames and was ultimately burned to the ground.   Members of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office discovered a body that was burned beyond recognition.  The remains were moved to the Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office in Roanoke and an autopsy was performed.  Dr. Goodman discovered shotgun pellets in the head and neck area of the deceased.  DNA and dental records were used to confirm that the body was Roger Roope, the sole resident of the house.

Roope’s relatives were contacted and interviewed.  Several relatives advised law enforcement that Roope knew a man named Daniel Ray James.  They were told by Roope that James owed him money and had not paid him back.  Roope had also told his relatives that James had stolen one or more firearms from him.

Efforts were made to locate James but were initially unsuccessful.  A search warrant was obtained for James’ residence in Pulaski County.  Investigator Brian Wade discovered a shotgun at James’ residence with an empty shotgun shell still in the gun.  That firearm and empty shell were forwarded to the lab in Roanoke for testing. Scientist Wendy Gibson tested the firearm and shell and compared them to the shotgun pellets and the shotgun wadding that was removed from Roger Roope’s body.  Gibson concluded that the shotgun pellets were 7 ½ size.  She also concluded that those pellets and the wadding from the body were consistent with the 12 gauge shotgun and the shotgun shell discovered at James’ house.  Although Gibson would testify that the items were consistent with the gun, she could not testify that the evidence proved conclusively that the pellets were fired from the gun.  A certificate of analysis containing those conclusions was filed dated December 12, 2016.

Also found at the defendant’s residence was a prescription drug bottle with the name removed from the label.  Based on the tracking number on the prescription bottle, Wal-Mart pharmacy was able to determine that the prescription was issued to the victim, Roger Roope.  The prescription had been filled only a few days before his death.  The defendant, during interviews with the police denied having seen the victim or having been to his home within the last year.

Cell phone tracking data was also used by the Sheriff’s Office to show that the defendant’s cell phone was near the tower closest to the victim’s home at the time of the murder.  However the defendant also resided at a location that would have been closest to that tower, as well.  Although the defendant initially denied being in the area of the murder during the commission of the crime, when presented with the cell phone evidence, he admitted that he had been in that section of Pulaski County.

During this time the defendant James sold a .32 cal H&R revolver to Thomas Bivens.  That firearm was traced to Pauline Roope, the victim’s mother.  The victim had received the firearm at his mother’s death years earlier.  The defendant James denied stealing the gun from the victim but said that he received it from Tony Albert.  Albert denied ever selling a firearm to James.