Man Found Guilty of Murdering His Estranged Wife - - ABC13

Man Found Guilty of Murdering His Estranged Wife


Update: 12:15 a.m.

Amherst Co., VA -- The jury found Sylvester Cheatham guilty of first degree murder and grand larceny Thursday night.

The jury recommended a life sentence in prison plus a $20,000 fine for the first degree murder conviction. They recommended one year in prison for the grand larceny charge.

Prosecutors said Cheatham beat his wife to death at the Executive Inn Motel last August.

The defense claimed Cheatham acted in self-defense, after Anita Cheatham pulled a gun on him, demanding money.

Thursday during nearly three hours of testimony -- Cheatham recounted his version of events, and described his relationship with Arnita prior to the incident. 

He told the jury that Arnita willingly came to the Executive Inn to discuss their marriage.

He said his wife asked to borrow money, he refused, and she then pulled a gun out and pointed it in his face.

Cheatham testified that at that point he lost control, pulled a nightstick that he carried with him for protection, and started to beat Arnita - saying he only did it because he feared for his life.


Amherst Co., VA--A jury heard opening statements Wednesday afternoon in the trial for a man accused of killing his estranged wife at an Amherst County motel. Sylvester Cheatham pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and grand larceny.

In their opening statement the Commonwealth described a volatile marriage between Arnita and Sylvester Cheatham. The jury was told that Arnita wanted a divorce, and hoped to make a fresh start with her boyfriend in Norfolk. The commonwealth says she never got that new start because Cheatham didn't allow it.

Investigators found Arnita's body at the Executive Inn Motel last August. They say the cause of death was blunt force trauma. The prosecution says Arnita willingly went to meet her husband at the motel. They say when she went to sleep that night Cheatham brutally smashed her over the head at least five times, crushing her skull.

Gruesome and graphic pictures of the crime scene were presented to the jury, showing a bloody and battered Arnita, lying in bed on top of sheets stained with red. Family members in the courtroom let out gasps and sobs when they took in the sight.

A medical examiner described the brute force it would take to cause Arnita's injuries, equating it to a car wreck, or a fall from a significant height.

The prosecution says the crime was deliberate and planned. However, the defense says Arnita pulled a gun on Cheatham and demanded money, telling the jury Cheatham acted in self-defense. But instead of calling 911, investigators testified that Cheatham bought the motel room for one more night, took Arnita's car and cell phone and left. He was picked up two weeks later in North Carolina.

No gun was ever recovered in the crime. A murder weapon was never recovered either.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up Thursday.

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