From October 27th through November 9th in 1988, Darnell Craig Sumrell Jr. (known as Craig) was the leader of a pack of four men that attacked eight people and even conspired to rob and murder everyone in a bar in the Ocean View area. That plot that fell through.
The men formed a gang they called the Death Stalkers, police officers said, and the price of admission into the gang was to commit murder.
"This was a murder club, if you will," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Troy R. Spencer. "And the first charter member is Darnell Craig Sumrell Jr."
Three other Norfolk men have been convicted in the club's spree: Jerry Wayne Johnson, 33, who received 110 years in prison, Walter Lawson, 19, life plus 60 years, and Robert Dean Beveridge, 27, 71 years and who is awaiting sentencing on one of the murders.
The gang's first act of violence was committed October 27, 1988, on Relon Cutchins, 45, the vice president of a health care company. The four felons thought Cutchins kept large amounts of money and opium in his house, a police investigator testified.
Craig Sumrell kicked in the door, assaulted Cutchins and then held a knife to the man's head. "He told me he was going to ram it all the way through my brain," Cutchins said.
Instead, the men left after ransacking the house and taking his money, Cutchins said.
Less than a week later, Sumrell, Lawson and Beveridge beat and robbed two sailors who had just returned from sea and cashed their paychecks. The sailors testified they lost $1,200 and were kicked repeatedly as they lay face down on the pavement.
Two days after that, the four attacked and robbed Jimmy Kuykendol, another Navy man, as he walked along East Ocean View Drive. Craig Sumrell held a sawed-off shotgun to his side, Kuykendol said. "Someone said, `Kill him,' " he testified.
That same night, the men attacked and robbed a fourth sailor and his girlfriend who were headed for their room at the Ramada Inn on East Ocean View Avenue. Craig Sumrell was the obvious leader, said the sailor, Richard D. Stobbs. He testified that Sumrell hit him in the head several times with a sawed-off shotgun.
Stobbs was convinced he was going to die. "I remember this phrase in particular: `When we gonna do 'em? Do 'em now?'"
Three days after that, Craig Sumrell tucked the same sawed-off shotgun under his jacket and went inside the Get It and Go convenience store on East Ocean View. Clerk Daniel Barben, just 22 years, was on the phone, talking to his 18 year old fiance', when Craig Sumrell pulled out the gun and fired from less than 4 feet away, said Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney John R. Doyle III. Barben's head was blown apart by 89 shotgun pellets while his girlfriend listened helplessly on the other end of the line. A sound she will never forget in her life, Doyle said.
When they couldn't get the drawer open, Craig Sumrell and Johnson stole the cash register, Doyle said.
Darnell Craig Sumrell Jr. grew up with the values of hard work, discipline and honesty, said his father, a Norfolk policeman for 22 years. He was a Boy Scout who played Little League baseball, was punished when he made bad grades and played catch with his dad in their Ocean View yard on sunny days.
Now Craig is 24, a drug abuser and a veteran of the state prison system, who sat motionless Thursday as that adolescent image crumbled in a courtroom full of family, police investigators, reporters and curious onlookers.
He showed no emotion as Circuit Judge John C. Morrison Jr. sentenced him to life in prison without parole for committing a weeklong spree of robberies and murders in the East Ocean View section in 1988.
Morrison spared Craig Sumrell the death penalty, saying life in prison without parole "might be a fate worse than death, and if it is, justice would be served."
He said the sole reason for his decision was a psychiatrist's testimony that Craig Sumrell could be controlled in prison - and would learn the consequences of his actions.
The verdict came after two days of testimony that left Darnell Craig Sumrell Sr. with tears in his eyes as he heard several witnesses describe his son's rampage.
Craig Sumrell shot a convenience store clerk at close range with a sawed-off shotgun, helped murder and rob a cab driver and robbed and maliciously beat several other people - primarily to strike out at his police officer father, the witnesses said.
"He expressed a lot of resentment and anger towards his father," testified Probation Officer Lisa Apperson. "He felt very uncomfortable with his father being a police officer" and acted out because of it.
Craig Sumrell, a large man with long, shiny blond hair, has been in prison five of the past seven years after he was convicted in 1983 for robbery and malicious wounding. He pleaded guilty to capital murder and 26 other felonies on March 8 instead of facing a jury.
City prosecutors called Craig Sumrell one of the most heinous criminals to appear in a Norfolk courtroom and fought to have him sent to the electric chair.
Sumrell's father pleaded for the young man's life. "What Craig has done is unspeakable," said the elder Sumrell. "As a police officer, I can't find an excuse for it."
And neither could anyone else. Life without parole will have to do because the courts have spoken. But, in this writers opinion, the electric chair would have still been easier than what he gave his innocent victims.
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