Attorney: Va. Suspect Had Mental Problems

This image provided by the Virginia State Police shows shooting suspect Christopher Speight, 39, who is being sought in connections with the fatal shootings of eight people in Appomattox, Va., Jan. 19, 2010. AP Photo/Virginia State Police

A woman was not trying to kick the brother accused of killing her and seven other people out of the house they shared, a family attorney said Thursday.

Christopher Speight, 39, was charged late Wednesday with one count of murder and is likely to face additional charges.

The victims of Tuesday morning's rampage included Speight's sister, Lauralee Sipe, along with Sipe's husband, 16-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. The others were the 16-year-old's friend and her parents, who were either dropping off or picking up their daughter, and a third teen.

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Police have refused to offer a motive for the slayings, but David Anderson, who owns a market where Speight sometimes worked as a security guard, said Speight was worried about being turned out of the house where the killings took place. He co-owned it with Sipe.

Speight never wanted to talk about it, but he "constantly paced the floor," said Anderson, co-owner of the Sunshine Market grocery store in Lynchburg. "I thought he was going to wear a trench in it."

Lynchburg attorney Henry Devening, who handled legal matters for Speight's family, said Thursday he does not understand how Speight could have thought anyone was throwing him out. He said Speight's sister was trying to do right by him, last week signing a deed that put the Appomattox property in his name as their grandparents had asked in a 2006 trust.

"My relationship with these folks was purely business, but Lauralee was a great person," Devening said. "Very motivated to take care of the family. I can't imagine why he would turn on her."

Speight had an apparent learning disability and history of mental problems, and "ran away" from his sister's Georgia home during a breakdown in 2007, Devening said.

Devening said he does not know if Speight was treated or hospitalized but said the family decided then that his sister and the attorney should become the trustees.

Speight never objected.

"He was just kind of an inadequate person. He just did not want the responsibility of being the trustee," Devening said. "Looking back, I'm not quite sure why we chose him, other than that he was a resident of Virginia and lived with the grandparents at the time."

Police found most of the bodies in or near the house. Speight gave himself up to police early Wednesday after leading investigators on an 18-hour manhunt through the woods. Police said he fired several times at a state police helicopter, rupturing its fuel tank and forcing it to land near the shooting scene. A bomb squad found explosives in the home, and crews were detonating the devices into the night.

State police identified the victims as Lauralee and Dewayne Sipes, both 38. Devening said they were husband and wife and 15-year-old Morgan Dobyns was Lauralee's daughter from a previous marriage. Also killed was their son, 4-year-old Joshua Sipe, and 15-year-old Emily Quarles, a friend of Morgan's, along with her parents, Karen and Jonathan Quarles, both 43. The eighth victim, 16-year-old Ronald Scruggs, was a friend of Emily's.

Abigail Schroeder, a 23-year-old waitress at the Corner Grill in quiet, downtown Appomattox, said the family were regulars because Emily's older sister Megan worked there about three years ago.

"Emily and Morgan were just in Monday," she said. "It's just a smack in the face because we see them all the time, and when everybody told us, we're just like, 'No, it's not Jon and Karen. No way.' And Megan's getting married in a few months. ... It's just hard right now. All this big, good stuff was about to come up, and then something like this happens to her family."

The three teenagers were students at Appomattox County High School. Dorinda Grasty, superintendent of the Appomattox County school system, said crisis teams and guidance counselors were at all of the county's schools Thursday assisting grieving students.

"This horrific tragedy will leave a tremendous scar and willful pain in the lives of all of our students and staff in our school system," Grasty said.

Friends described Speight as a gun enthusiast. In 1995, he applied for a concealed weapons permit in Appomattox County, saying he needed to carry a weapon because his job required him to work at night and carry large amounts of money.

"I am a dependable, hardworking person, not quick to anger, and find ways to get out of problems without using force or violence," Speight wrote in his application.

He renewed it in 1997, 1999 and 2004.

Neighbor Monte W. Mays said Speight was cordial and friendly. He had long been a gun enthusiast and enjoyed target shooting at a range on his property, Mays said. But the shooting recently became a daily occurrence, with Speight firing what Mays said were high-powered rifles.

"Then we noticed he was doing it at nighttime," and the gunfire started going deeper into the woods, Mays said.

No court date has been set for Speight. Officials declined to allow an Associated Press reporter see him Thursday and had no record of him having an attorney. Elton Blackstock, administrator of the Lynchburg Adult Detention Center, described Speight as cooperative with staff at the 600-inmate jail.
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