Third suspect convicted in 2018 fatal armed robbery

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: August 22, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

Sledge sentenced to 20 years for robbery, murder of Umar Salaam

DINWIDDIE – The third and final suspect charged in connection with the robbery and slaying of a Dinwiddie business owner has been convicted and sentenced to two decades behind bars after entering a guilty plea in court.

According to court records, Petersburg resident Thornhill Sledge plead guilty to an amended second-degree murder and felony robbery charge in Dinwiddie County Circuit Court last week as he was slated to go on trial for his role in the robbery and murder of Umar Salaam one year earlier. With his plea, a pair of conspiracy and felony firearms charges were dismissed. 

The court handed Sledge a 40-year prison sentence, with 20 years suspended on the murder charge and a 20-year sentence in connection with the felony robbery charge, all of which was suspended. He will also have to pay over $1,000 in court costs and faces indefinite supervision in regards to probation.

Sledge is one of three suspects charged in connection with a violent crime that highlighted an uncharacteristically violent month in the county as June 2018 saw the murder of Salaam and the unrelated kidnapping and slaying of Dinwiddie teenager Ke’Asia Adkins, with Anton Coleman, the man facing life in prison in connection with her death awaiting his day in court on capital murder charges. 

In mid-June of last year, Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Office deputies were called to U.S. Route 1 near Ritchie Avenue, close to the car wash business Salaam owned and operated for a report of a man lying in the roadway. That man, later identified as Salaam, a resident of Petersburg and father to a small child was taken to Southside Regional Medical Center where he died from his injuries. 

Within days, detectives announced they had arrested Sledge, Jhanae Short, and Caleb Smith for their roles in the robbery, with a Dinwiddie County grand jury later indicting the trio on felony murder, robbery, and firearms charges. 

Jhanae Short

As the case worked its way through the county’s circuit court, Short was the first of the suspects to appear in court and, during the start of the year, she would enter an Alford plea to an amended second-degree murder charge, with her plea conceding that the evidence presented by Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill would be sufficient enough for a jury to find her guilty. She did plead guilty to felony robbery, while firearms and conspiracy charges were dismissed. 

According to court records available as of this report, Short, a resident of Petersburg, has yet to be sentenced. 

Caleb Smith

Last month, Smith of Newport News opted not to enter a plea and went before a jury during a two-day trial. He would later be convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, and using a firearm in commission of a felony before being sentenced to life in prison.

With two of the three suspects now sentenced to decades or the remainder of the lives behind bars, the community has started to heal from the senseless murder of a respected business owner and father. While Commonwealth Attorney Baskervill was unavailable for comment as of this report, in prior conversations as the trio of cases moved through Dinwiddie’s courts, she discussed her office’s mindset as they prepared to prosecute each of the suspects.

“Homicide is the most serious crime one can commit,” Baskervill said. “When an offender or group of offenders takes the life of another, this erases the victim’s independent, self-determined future, erasing his or her chance to do, to feel, to be.  This also robs a family, a peer group, a community, and a society of someone who is a piece of all these circles, and does so without warning, without answers, without purpose, and without sense.  What possibly is accomplished by taking another’s life?  Nothing good, nothing to be proud of, nothing society chooses to accept or tolerate.”

She continued, “As a prosecutor, I apply criminal laws which recognize and reflect the gravity of homicide. When I file charges for a grand jury to consider, those charges allege crimes which violate specific criminal statutes ‘in violation of the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of Virginia.’ In addition to inflicting the gravest, most permanent damage on a victim, his or her loved ones, and his or her community, the killing of another is perhaps the most egregious way one can violate the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.  In these cases, every ounce of work by me and my office – litigating, investigating, filing charges, and so forth – is in service to the public to restore the peace and dignity that has been violated.”

A key aspect of this case’s successful prosecution that resulted in three convictions was the work done by the Dinwiddie County’s Sheriff’s Office’s deputies and detectives, who were able to collect evidence and other materials that could be used by Baskervill’s office as part of their case. Having detectives trained in the latest forensic technologies is important to Sheriff D.T. Adams, as he explained in a previous interview.

“These are investigators I have trained before I ever became sheriff so, they have a lot of experience and they are up-to-date on new technology that is available to them and they do an excellent job,” he remarked. “I am only as good as the employees I have working for me.”

Adams continued, “When things started to change in Dinwiddie County and we started having an increase in major crimes, we formed a team and anytime we have a major crime that happens in Dinwiddie County, we call that team out and they work together as a unit. It makes a difference in getting the job done because with a team, some people can stay at the scene and collect evidence as we have four officers who are Virginia Forensic Science Academy graduates. It is important to have them trained in these specific disciplines.”

With both Smith and Sledge now sentenced, the attention now turns to Short. According to court records, she is expected to return to court on August 20, where it is likely her sentencing date will be set for a later date. She faces between five to a much as 40 years behind bars.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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