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Text messages authenticated, considered party admission

Where appellant was convicted after a bench trial of the attempted first-degree murder of his girlfriend, destruction of property and several firearm offenses, appellant’s text messages to the girlfriend after he shot at her were properly authenticated and could be considered as a party admission.

Further, there is enough evidence to sustain appellant’s conviction on the remining charges.


Appellant Warren was Shannon Lee’s live-in boyfriend. They argued about Lee speaking with her ex-boyfriend. Warren told Lee to stay away from him and, in a text message, threatened to kill her.

Warren was in Lee’s home when she arrived that evening. She stayed outside for about an hour. The two exchanged text messages and Warren again threatened to kill her.

Lee entered the home. Warren and his cousin Billy were inside. Lee asked Warren to leave. He refused and walked back into the living room. Seconds later, she heard a gunshot. She ran into the living room, where Warren had her handgun on the floor next to him.

Lee and Billy ran out of the home after Lee grabbed her gun. The two drove around for several hours then spent the night in a hotel.

She returned home the next day to find the interior had been vandalized with spray paint. A spray-painted message in the bathroom pointed to a bullet hole and stated “this should have killed u[.]”

Officer Lair responded to Lee’s vandalism complaint. “Lee shared with Lair screenshots of text messages she had received from Warren after the shooting.” One text stated, “3 feet to the right and u be die.”

Destiny, Warren’s daughter, exchanged text messages with him after the shooting, in which he admitted to shooting at Lee.

“Considering the text messages between Warren and Lee, text messages between Warren and his daughter, Lee’s testimony, and the physical evidence, the circuit court found that Warren had intended to kill Lee and convicted him of all charges.”

Text messages

“Warren first argues that the circuit court erred in admitting the screenshot of text messages introduced as Commonwealth’s Exhibit 13 because there was a lack of sufficient foundation that they included statements made by Warren and were therefore inadmissible hearsay. …

“The record supports the circuit court’s finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the phone number appearing in the screenshot of Lee’s phone belonged to Warren and that he authored and sent the text messages from that phone number, as shown in Commonwealth’s Exhibit 13.

“Lee and Destiny both testified that Warren gave them that phone number and that they each regularly communicated with him via text message and phone calls from that number.

“This evidence satisfies the foundational requirement of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Warren authored and sent the challenged text messages from his cell phone.

“Thus, the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the Commonwealth sufficiently authenticated the text messages to render them admissible for consideration as a party admission.”

Criminal actor

Warren argues there was no evidence that he fired the gun. “The evidence presented in this case supports the circuit court’s factual finding that Warren was the criminal actor.

“Lee testified that she and Warren had been arguing all day, and text messages between the pair corroborate her claim. Prior to the shooting Warren had threatened to kill Lee, as evidenced in the text messages and Lee’s testimony.

“After Lee heard the gunshot, she looked up and observed Billy shaking in the kitchen. Lee then entered the living room, where she found Warren sitting on the couch with her handgun on the floor by his feet. A spent shell casing was on the table next to where he was sitting.

“Lee immediately grabbed the gun and fled with Billy. Testing confirmed that the purple and black handgun was operable and the shell casing found on the table had been expelled from that firearm.

“After the incident Warren continued to text Lee and referred to the shooting. Further, Warren disclosed to Destiny via text messages that he had shot at Lee, but missed, and wished he had killed her. A reasonable fact finder could conclude that Warren possessed the firearm, aimed, and fired it in Lee’s direction while he was in the living room.”


Warren “asserts that there is only speculation that he harbored intent to kill, which is insufficient to support his conviction. However, based on the facts in this record, a reasonable fact finder could conclude that Warren intended to kill Lee.

“Before the shooting, Warren stated via text message that he was going to shoot and kill Lee. When Lee entered the home, Warren reiterated that message. The evidence shows that Warren shot in Lee’s direction as she sat on the end of her bed.

“Warren admitted afterwards to his daughter that he had, in fact, shot at Lee. The evidence also supports a finding that Warren circled the bullet hole in the wall of Lee’s home and painted, ‘this should have killed u.’”

Malicious shooting

Warren also asserts that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of maliciously shooting into an occupied dwelling because the evidence failed to establish that he was the criminal actor and that he endangered the life of another. …

“[T]he evidence proved that Warren was angry and he had repeatedly threatened to shoot and kill Lee. …

“Warren acted on his threats by firing a shot from the living room; the bullet traveled through the bedroom where Lee was seated on her bed.

“The possibility that the bullet could have hit Lee, or could have hit a solid object and ricocheted, provided the circuit court with sufficient evidence to conclude that Warren’s discharge of the firearm within the confined area near Lee had the potential to endanger her life.”

Warren  v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0348-22-1, Feb. 21, 2023. CAV unpublished opinion (Humphreys). From the Circuit Court of the City of Williamsburg and County of James City. (Smith). Richard G. Collins for appellant. Mason D. Williams, Jason S. Miyares for appellee. VLW 023-7-087, 17 pp.

VLW 023-7-087

Virginia Lawyers Weekly