A 22-year-old man who shot a teenager and dumped his body on Crawford Road in York County has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder — but also has the opportunity to cut time off his prison sentence if he testifies against an alleged accomplice in the crime.
Flanked on either side by his two attorneys, Julian Rios, of Portsmouth, appeared in the York-Poquoson Circuit Court Tuesday morning to plead guilty to first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Rios wore a yellow jumpsuit bearing the words “Western Tidewater Regional Jail” as Commonwealth’s Attorney Benjamin Hahn recounted the night of June 30, 2016, when Rios and 25-year-old Amina Washington allegedly plotted the death of 19-year-old Austin Baxley.
“Four people left the city of Portsmouth, and only three of them returned,” Hahn said. “… Three returned to Portsmouth and left Austin Baxley dead on the side of the road with multiple gunshot wounds.”
Hahn did not give all the details of Baxley’s murder Tuesday because Washington has not yet appeared in court for trial.
A third person, Antionne Hinton, 34, is charged with accessory after the fact in a homicide and for allegedly “getting rid of” the guns used to kill Baxley.
Investigators with the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office analyzed data from Rios’ cell phone while investigating the murder.
The data showed Rios traveled late on June 30 from Portsmouth, across the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel, and into York County. The cell phone then pinged a tower close to Crawford Road.
According to Hahn, both Washington and Rios were in the vehicle when it traveled to York County with Baxley.
“He and the codefendant took Austin Baxley to Crawford Road, where, at the agreed upon signal, he’s be shot and left on that road,” Hahn said.
A deputy heard several gunshots that evening while at a nearby apartment complex. Around midnight, deputies responded to the road after a passerby reported a dead body on the side of the road.
Deputies and medics located the body of an 18-year-old white male near the Tour Road overpass in the vicinity of Yorktown Battlefield at Colonial National Historical Park.
Baxley was pronounced dead at the scene with shots to his head and torso. Police also found cartridge casings, fire projectiles, footprints and tire marks near Baxley’s body, court documents state.
More cell phone data showed Rios had been in close contact with Baxley in the days leading up to his death, although Rios later told police he “hadn’t seen Baxley in a couple weeks,” Hahn said.
The data showed a trip to York County was “unusual” and “out of the ordinary,” as Rios’ cell phone generally pinged towers on the southside around Virginia Beach and Portsmouth, Hahn said.
During the hearing, the prosecution and defense presented Judge Richard Rizk with a plea agreement recommending Rios be sentenced to life in prison with all but 23 years suspended.
Another three years would be added to the sentence for the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony charge.
The bulk of the life sentence would be suspended in exchange for Rios’ full cooperation in the prosecution of Washington.
According to the plea agreement, if Rios does not fully comply, tell the complete truth, or gives misinformation, the plea agreement and recommended prison sentence will be void.
Rizk will accept or deny the plea agreement at Rios’ sentencing, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 27, after Washington’s trial takes place.
Online court records show Washington is scheduled for a status hearing for 9 a.m. on March 29.
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