63 years in prison for VSU killing
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Sep 16, 2013, 11:48
CHESTERFIELD — At a sentencing hearing on Wednesday morning, Judge Steven McCallum upheld the jury’s recommendation of 63 years in prison for Ryan Christopher Simms, 20, a former Virginia State University student who shot and killed Ryan Hughes in drug deal that took a deadly turn.
Before the judge handed down the sentence, Simms’ defense attorney, George Townsend IV, made the plea for the judge to consider sentencing Simms within the state guidelines of 27 years and eight months and 46 years and one month. Townsend made the argument that Hughes was trying to rob Simms by making a statement such as “run your pockets,” and he had pulled a gun on Simms. Townsend continued saying that when someone is faced with an armed robber, they are not faced with many options.
During the four-day trial in May of this year, the prosecution laid out their case detailing the events that transpired on the afternoon of April 17, 2012. On that day, Simms stood behind the Virginia State University Federal Credit Union as co-defendant Khaliq Oliver, went to meet Hughes to buy an ounce of marijuana, valued at more than $400.
When Oliver met Hughes in the parking lot of the credit union, he grabbed the drugs and ran across campus. Simms was standing close by as this all happened at the car of Damon Wright, which could all be seen in cameras that were positioned in and around the credit union. Once Oliver ran, Simms walked down to where Hughes was standing, and in his possession was a .38-caliber semi-automatic pistol.
According to the prosecution and witness testimony, Hughes became angry that he had been robbed. When Simms approached Hughes, who was also armed and holding a .38-caliber revolver by his side, surveillance and testimony relieved that Simms lifted the gun from underneath his shirt and unloaded all nine rounds from the gun, with four shots hitting Hughes. The testimonies taken at trial by witnesses do not confirm that Simms fired in self-defense, as none recalled Hughes ever pointed his weapon at Simms.
In a letter addressed to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General and Office of the Inspector General, both of Simms parents, Clifford and Glenda Simms, claim the trial of their son was “unjust and unfair.”
“Hughes threatened my son and others with his gun, because Mr. Oliver allegedly snatch[ed] his weed. Weed was found in the severely damag[ed] car driven by Mr. Wright at the time,” the letter reads.
“Please understand, this letter is not to state my son had no responsibility. He should not have had possession of a firearm,” the letter states. “However, he did not display or point this firearm until being threatened by Mr. Hughes whom confronted him and his friends and room mate.”
“I must say, first and foremost, my prayers and heart felt sadness goes to Mr. Tyrail Hughes, mother for her [loss]; however this has been a tragic ordeal for our family as well. Everyone deserv[es] a fair and impartial trial and treatment regardless of where they live, their past, or the status of their parents,” the letter states.
Prosecutor Melissa Hoy responded to the defense’s position by stating that Simms did not have to confront Hughes; he could have walked away.
“All he had to do was leave,” Hoy said. “He was there with a weapon. He was there for a specific reason.” Hoy continued saying that there was nothing to warrant Simms firing his weapon nine times.
As both the prosecution and defense stated their final arguments, the judge turned to Simms and asked if he wanted to speak, and that if he wanted to the time was now. Simms, did not speak one word, but just shook his head.
The judge then addressed Townsend and said the jury rejected the claim of self-defense in the trial. He said having presided over the trial, he noted that Simms positioned himself behind the credit union so he could watch the events unfold.
“He wanted to be part of the aftermath,” McCallum said. “... He wanted to be part of the events that day.”
The judge also brought up that Simms, from Maryland, was out on bond from Prince George’s County, Md., custody as he pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery. Simms was to be sentenced to those charges in May of 2012, just a few weeks after the events near VSU.
The judge said given the upcoming sentencing of the defendant, that he “would have done the most to be on his best behavior” and motivated to stay out of trouble; however he said Simms did the exact opposite.
The judge handed down the convictions for the second-degree murder of Hughes, in which he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Simms was also sentenced to seven years in prison for the malicious wounding of William Penn, a freshman at VSU, a bystander who was shot in the foot. Simms was also sentenced to seven other charges, including grand larceny, attempted murder, and three firearms counts, all totaling 63 years.
Townsend told the judge that Simms intends to appeal his convictions.