Final suspect in deadly 2018 robbery sentenced

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: November 26, 2019 | 1:45 p.m. 

Petersburg woman to spend 10 years behind bars in Salaam slaying

DINWIDDIE – The last of three suspects charged in connection with the robbery and murder of a beloved father and Dinwiddie business owner has been sentenced to a decade behind bars for her role in the violent crime.

According to court records, Jhanae Short of Petersburg was sentenced to a total of 40 years behind bars following an earlier guilty plea to felony robbery and an Alford plea, meaning she acknowledges the evidence presented against her would likely result in a jury finding her guilty, to an amended second-degree murder charge but, on each charge, 15 years was suspended from her sentence, resulting in a 10-year prison term for the teenager.

Earlier this year, when she entered her pleas in Dinwiddie Circuit Court, local prosecutors dismissed, or “nolle prosequi,” a pair of felony firearms and conspiracy charges against the woman in connection with the June 2018 robbery and murder of Umar Salaam, operator of Zoe’s Bubbles and Sudz car wash at the Shell gas station at the corner of Ritchie Avenue and U.S. Route 1 near Interstate 85.

In addition, once released, she will remain on probation for an indefinite amount of time and is required to pay over $3,600 in fines.

Short was the final suspect of three who had been charged and convicted in the June 20, 2018 murder of Salaam, who was found lying in the roadway near his business late that evening by a passing motorist. Salaam, a Petersburg resident and father to a young daughter, according to published reports, was rushed to Southside Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

Days after the slaying, detectives with the Dinwiddie County Sheriff’s Office arrested Short, Thornhill Sledge, also of Petersburg, and Caleb Smith of Newport News in connection with the robbery, with the trio behind held at Meherrin River Regional Jail for over a year as they faced trial.

Over a month later, as the county came to grips with a June that was uncharacteristically violent as the death of Salaam was followed by the unrelated, but equally senseless kidnapping and murder of Ke’Asia Adkins, a Dinwiddie High School student only a few days later, Dinwiddie Commonwealth Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill confirmed the three had been indicted by a grand jury, each facing first-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy, and using a firearm to commit murder.

2019 saw all three suspects go before a judge in the case, with Short being the first in January, where she entered her guilty and Alford pleas and saw firearms and conspiracy charges dismissed.

In July, Smith opted not to enter a plea and allowed his case to move forward to a jury to decide his fate, with the Newport News man being found guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and two counts of using a firearm in commission of a felony before sentencing him to life in prison.

The next month, Sledge entered a plea of no contest prior to his case advancing to trial, with his first-degree murder charge being amended to murder in the second degree, while the conspiracy and firearms charges were dismissed.

As a result, Sledge was sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder, with two decades of that term suspended and 20 years in prison on the robbery charge, all of which was suspended, per court records, resulting in a 20-year prison term.

With their conclusion, The Dinwiddie Monitor reached out to lead prosecutor Baskervill for her thoughts on the case but she was unavailable for comment, citing ongoing preparations for an upcoming unrelated case. In past conversations with the newspaper, she opened up about the case and her office’s efforts to attain justice for Salaam’s family and the community.

“As we saw at trial and at our public proceedings in the public venue of court, this case involved a very deliberate plan to commit robbery, with motive elements including drugs, prostitution, and sheer greed,” she remarked. “The tragic death of Umar Salaam was the worst possible collateral damage. The lethal ultimate tragedy is recognized by Virginia criminal law, and by plain common sense and morality, as blame and culpability for deliberate and premeditated murder, because the deliberate and premeditated robbery itself entails violence that is entirely unacceptable.”

She continued, “Here the perpetrators all had – and expressed in open court – difficulty understanding how they could be guilty of murder, when they so-called ‘only’ participated in the planning and execution of a robbery. That is not how Virginia criminal law works, and that is not how our community’s sense of morality, justice, and public safety works. It was and is important for me and our team to express and execute our values here, which align with Virginia criminal law and thus align with our zealous prosecution efforts under Virginia law.”

The prosecutor, in speaking about Smith’s trial, said she was particularly struck by the appearance that the suspects didn’t know they were in Dinwiddie County when the crime was committed.

“A striking factor here was that none of our suspects seem to have known of Dinwiddie County. It is like they thought they were still in Petersburg,” Baskervill remarked. “At trial against Caleb Smith, who is now serving life-plus-plus, the evidence showed that, upon his arrest on warrants obtained by us in Dinwiddie, he inquired, ‘What’s Dinwiddie?’ Well, he knows now.”

Additionally, in past interactions with The Dinwiddie Monitor, Baskervill offered praise to Sheriff D.T. Adams and the team of detectives who work for the sheriff’s department, noting the key role they played in evidence collection and eventual arrests.

“Sheriff Adams has a great team, and his leadership allows them to maintain and constantly improve upon their excellence. I certainly speak for the community in expressing my admiration and gratitude,” she said, praising Lieutenant David Gunn, head of the department’s investigative unit, and Investigators Lucy, Shifflett, Droddy, Crowder, Aponte, and Parker for their efforts in this and other cases they are tasked with working.

“Most people know that prior to coming to Dinwiddie, I spent years prosecuting in the City of Richmond, ultimately specializing in gang cases,”Baskervill detailed. “I had amazing opportunities to work with all-star detectives and forensic investigators there. Ours here in Dinwiddie are amazing and all-star like that. I am so proud of them, and so privileged to work with them, and I know the community is grateful and blessed also. They are conscientious, tireless, professional, and bursting with integrity, common sense, wisdom, and particular and brilliant knowledge of and familiarity with Dinwiddie County.”

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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