A jury deliberated for less than 40 minutes Tuesday before acquitting a Newport News man of manslaughter charges brought after he killed a man in a fight outside a home five years ago.
The 12-member jury found Michael Robert Paparelli not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the Nov. 24, 2017 slaying of 34-year-old Corey David Hunter.
Paparelli, who was out on bond for years pending trial, hugged his attorneys, Cathy Krinick and Christina James, in emotional embraces after the verdict capped the weeklong trial.
Michael Robert Paparelli, 47, was charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Corey David Hunter on Nov. 24, 2017.
Corey David Hunter
“It’s been a long road, and I’m just glad it’s come to its conclusion,” Paparelli told the Daily Press after the hearing. “It’s been difficult for all of the families, for everybody.”
During closing arguments Tuesday, Newport News prosecutors conceded Hunter was “the initial aggressor” in the fight, but said Paparelli acted unlawfully in shooting Hunter even after he turned and ran from the gunshots.
People are also reading…
A state autopsy shows Hunter was shot five times — twice in the hands and three times in the back. Trial evidence showed he was likely shot from more than two feet away.
“It’s not self-defense to shoot a fleeing person when he’s running away — and to shoot him in the back,” Newport News prosecutor Melissa Freudenberg said in her closing argument.
But Krinick contended the shooting was clearly self-defense, saying Paparelli was in his front yard when “a stranger he’s never seen … starts attacking.” He had nowhere else to turn, she asserted.
“If this isn’t self-defense, what is?” Krinick asked. “He reacted based on instinct … It was a reasonable reaction to what was being done to him.”
In a 911 call immediately after the shooting, a highly distraught Paparelli told a police dispatcher that Hunter “attacked me” and “sucker punched me.” He urged the dispatcher multiple times to send an ambulance as soon as possible.
The events that led to Hunter’s death were set in motion when Paparelli’s girlfriend called a friend in hysterics, saying Paparelli had assaulted her in the couple’s home on Prince William Road.
The friend, Stefani Gavalya, and Hunter, a York County man she’d recently begun dating, immediately went to Paparelli’s house. While the two women knew each other well, the two men had never previously met.
Hunter was heavily intoxicated when he arrived at the home, trial evidence shows.
The prosecution’s case was damaged by a series of text messages exchanged between Hunter and a friend as he waited in his pickup outside Paparelli’s home. Hunter told the friend he was there to beat up an armed man who had hit a woman — but that he’d hit the man before he could draw his gun.
After those texts came to light earlier in the case, the prosecution reduced the charge against Paparelli from second-degree murder to manslaughter.
Paparelli wasn’t home when they arrived, but returned after his girlfriend called to tell him she needed their daughter’s car seat from his truck.
A fistfight between the men began shortly thereafter, with witnesses saying Paparelli fired the shots in quick succession about 10 seconds into the altercation.
“They shot me, I’m dead,” Hunter said, before collapsing near a roadway about 16 feet away.
Paparelli ran inside and got his phone to call 911. Witnesses said he also got towels to try to staunch Hunter’s wounds, and also used a blood clotting solution on them. But those efforts didn’t work, and Hunter died en route to a hospital.
“These are the actions of an innocent man, ladies and gentlemen,” Krinick told jurors of Paparelli trying to save Hunter’s life.
Court records say Paparelli has four children and was working in construction at the time of the 2017 slaying. Hunter, for his part, was the father of a then 9-year-old son. He worked at 757 Boxing Club in Newport News, as a promoter for amateur Mixed Martial Arts events.
After Tuesday’s verdict, Krinick said the jury’s deliberation time of about 40 minutes was among the shortest she can recall in a career spanning more than four decades. “We have always thought it was self-defense, but you never know until you hear it from the jury,” she said.
Aside from the manslaughter verdict, Paparelli was also acquitted of a second charge of using a gun in a felony. He would have faced up to 13 years behind bars if convicted on both counts.
One of Paparelli’s neighbors, Brian Hartley, said he was relieved at the jury’s decision. “I’m glad that the truth was told, and his innocence was proven,” he said.
Freudenberg and another Newport News prosecutor, Andrea Booden, declined to comment on the verdict.
But Hunter’s family said they were “heartbroken and disappointed.” They contended the weeklong trial focused too heavily on Hunter’s past and not enough on the initial beating case that drew him and his girlfriend to the Denbigh home in the first place.
Hunter’s former mother-in-law, Sherry Thacker, said Hunter was a great father to his now-14-year-old son Jayden, drew people to him with an outgoing and friendly personality, and “will live in our hearts forever.”
“We’ve lived this for five years,” Thacker said. “Everything has been about this case … And I told (Jayden) we’re going to take a deep breath, and we’re going to move on, and tomorrow it’s going to be a new day.”
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, [email protected]