Updated 1 pm, Monday, April 8
Ovando S. Eghill, on trial last week for murder in the stabbing death of Michael M. Trusty, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter in Dukes County Superior Court on Thursday, April 4.
The announcement that Mr. Eghill, charged with second degree murder, had agreed to plead guilty to a charge of manslaughter, came as the court neared the end of the jury selection process in the murder trial that began two days earlier.
Associate Justice Gary A. Nickerson immediately sentenced Mr. Eghill to 4.5 years in state prison on the manslaughter charge.
Mr. Eghill also pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon. The court sentenced him to 2.5 years in the Dukes County House of Correction on the assault charge, to be served after his state prison sentence is complete.
Mr. Eghill, 32, will serve a total of seven years behind bars for his role in the death of Mr. Trusty. He had been free on $10,000 bail since his arrest almost two years ago.
Nine jurors were selected for the trial on April 2. The court was preparing to resume the process of selecting the remaining three jurors and alternates, when Mr. Eghill, through his defense attorney Robert Jubinville, notified Judge Nickerson that he was ready to change his plea to guilty.
The confrontation that led to death began on the afternoon of June 14, 2011, when both men, by coincidence, arrived at the 97 Spring Street home of a family friend who was caring for their children.
Mr. Eghill and his wife, Kelly Eghill, had arrived at the house to pick up their two children. Mr. Trusty, who was once married to Ms. Eghill was also there to pick up the child they shared.
An argument ensued outside the house, and escalated into the confrontation that left Mr. Trusty fatally wounded.
Mr. Eghill voluntarily appeared at the Tisbury police station about an hour after the stabbing. During questioning by police, he claimed self-defense. He said Mr. Trusty, also a Jamaican national, attacked him with a machete.
Mr. Eghill’s claim of self-defense began to unravel as Tisbury Police and State Police gathered more forensic evidence.
Mr. Trusty, a painter by trade who most recently lived in West Tisbury, died at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston on June 18, 2011, four days after the confrontation on Spring Street.
On the stand
In court Thursday, Judge Nickerson asked Mr. Eghill to take the witness stand, under oath, and explained in detail the rights Mr. Eghill would give up by pleading guilty. He confirmed with Mr. Edghill that he had entered the plea voluntarily and with a complete understanding of the consequences.
Cape and Islands first assistant district attorney Michael Trudeau outlined the facts he would have presented to jurors if the case went to trial.
“At one point, the defendant, Ovando Eghill, retrieved a knife from his waistband, opened the blade, showed it towards Mr. Trusty,” Mr. Trudeau told the court. “The altercation escalated to the point, where the evidence, I would suggest, would show that the defendant came in contact with Mr. Trusty, and witnesses would describe it as a pushing motion with two hands. Shortly after that, Mr. Trusty stumbled to the ground.”
Mr. Trudeau said witnesses would describe how Mr. Trusty went to his truck to retrieve a machete, but collapsed as he came back to confront Mr. Eghill.
Judge Nickerson asked Mr. Eghill if that account of the crime was true.
“Yes sir,” Mr. Eghill replied.
The judge asked Mr. Eghill about each specific fact that underpinned the charges, providing blunt descriptions of the crime.
“Before there was any physical contact with Mr. Trusty, did you display the knife to him,” Judge Nickerson asked.
“Yes sir,” Mr. Eghill replied.
“The blade was open?”
“At what point in the course of these events did you stab him?”
“I’m not sure, I think when we push apart.”
“Was this before or after he had the machete?”
Judge Nickerson moved on to the claim of self-defense Mr. Eghill claimed during police questioning shortly after the crime.
“Is it your claim today, that you were acting in self-defense when the knife came into Mr. Trusty’s chest?” Judge Nickerson asked.
“No sir,” Mr. Eghill replied.
Warning and sentence
Before he accepted the plea and handed down the sentence, Judge Nickerson advised Mr. Eghill about the consequences of his guilty plea on his immigration status. At the time of his crime, Mr. Eghill, a Jamaican national, had legal residency in the United States.
“Under federal law governing deportation, a plea of guilty to charges as serious as these, will result in automatic deportation, if you are not a citizen,” Judge Nickerson said.
Mr. Eghill said he understood. Mr. Jubinville told the court that an immigration lawyer had explained the law to Mr. Eghill.
Satisfied that Mr. Eghill understood his rights and made the plea voluntarily, Judge Nickerson accepted the guilty pleas, and agreed to the recommendation of the prosecutor and defense attorney for sentencing.
At the request of Mr. Jubinville, the judge also agreed to include a recommendation that Mr. Eghill serve his entire sentence at the Dukes County House of Correction.
“He has a wife and he is supporting four children,” Mr. Jubinville told the judge. “He also supports his mother and father. It would be an extreme hardship for his wife and children to come off the Island to visit him.”
The prosecutor offered no objection. “In the event that the department of correction and the sheriff’s department are able to arrange that, I have no problem,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The decision on where a sentence is served rests entirely with the Massachusetts Department of Correction. It is the decision of the sheriff in any jurisdiction whether to accept the transfer of a prisoner.
Judge Nickerson denied a request to stay the sentence for several days, so Mr. Eghill could arrange his affairs. The court denied that request. He was taken into custody in the courtroom.
Tisbury Police detective Mark Santon told The Times that had the case gone to trial, prosecutors planned to present DNA evidence that proved that blood found in Mr. Trusty’s truck came from Mr. Trusty himself.
Using corroborating statements from witnesses about Mr. Trusty’s movements, prosecutors were prepared to argue that Mr. Trusty had already suffered the stab wound that would prove fatal when he went to retrieve the machete from his vehicle.
Mr. Santon said initially it was difficult to piece together the sequence of events, because different witnesses each saw small parts of the confrontation.
Detective Santon said the evidence showed clearly that Mr. Eghill attacked the unarmed Mr. Trusty with a work knife. Only then did Mr. Trusty retrieve the machete from his vehicle.
Mr. Trusty moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2000. He left six children.