XENIA — A jury found a Xenia woman guilty in the 2018 stabbing death of 19-year-old Tre’Ana Tarver.
Greene County jurors deliberated for two hours April 24 before convicting Tova Wallace-Lee, 21, of murder and felonious assault. She will be sentenced 1 p.m. Thursday, April 25.
The two women exchanged Facebook messages all day Nov. 3, 2018, planning the physical fight that would happen that night in Wallace-Lee’s backyard on East Church Street. Wallace-Lee admitted to fatally stabbing Tarver in the chest with a kitchen knife.
Wallace-Lee is the first person in Greene County to claim self-defense in a murder trial since a law change went into effect last month. Up until March 28, if a person claimed self-defense in Ohio, the burden was on them to prove it. The new law shifts that responsibility to prosecutors.
In this case, the state had to prove two crimes occurred — felonious assault and murder — and then, under the new law, had to prove that Wallace-Lee did not act in self-defense.
During jury instructions, Judge Michael A. Buckwalter explained that the jury could not find Wallace-Lee acted in self defense if the state proved any of the following: that Wallace-Lee was at fault in creating the fight; that she did not have reasonable grounds to believe that she was in imminent danger of death or great harm; or that she had violated any duty to retreat to avoid the danger.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the use of the word tragedy to describe the events of November 3, 2018 simply does not do it justice,” Assistant Prosecutor David Hayes said in his closing statements. “The senselessness of what occurred … can also not be overstated. But what will be the issue in this case is whether or not the actions of the defendant … legally justify her killing of Tre’Ana Tarver. In other words, was she acting in self-defense? At the end of the day, that’s what the case will be about.”
Hayes argued that Wallace-Lee eagerly set up the fight, voluntarily left the safety of her home with a weapon in her pocket, and didn’t tell anybody about the fight or try to prevent it from happening. He also said that the size and stature of Tarver was not a serious threat to the defendant.
“Not only is she eager to have a fight, she makes the decision to grab a knife on the way out the door. Nothing about Tova Wallace’s actions … tells you that she was anything than a willing participant in this fight … She selected the participants, she selected the location and she selected the weapon,” Hayes told the jury. “The facts of the law in this case tell you that she did not act in self-defense. The facts of the law tell you that the state has proven beyond all doubt that she murdered Tre’Ana Tarver, that she committed that felonious assault in that backyard … “
Defense Attorney Kirsten Knight argued that Wallace-Lee is not the villain in this case — she was just defending herself during the fight.
“All of the participants in this case are children … there is no adjective to describe the horrible decision all of them made that day. For seven hours they planned out that they were going to have a fight — over a guy. A guy. It was a terrible decision and the result of the decision on part of all four girls leaves us to be here today,” Knight said in her closing. “The bottom line is that what Tova did was in self-defense. It doesn’t make it better. It won’t bring Tre’Ana back. But it was self-defense.”
Earlier testimony in day 3
The third day of trial began with a final witness taking the stand for the state.
Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) Forensic Scientist Katherine Dailey confirmed that she found Wallace-Lee’s and Tarver’s DNA on the knife.
While Wallace-Lee chose not to testify, her uncle, who witnessed the fight, did testify for the defense.
Bryan Wallace told Knight he followed Wallace-Lee out the door to the backyard, where he saw Tarver approaching his niece.
“She met Tova in the middle of the yard. They came together. They started fighting — fist fighting, throwing punches at each other,” he said. “Two other females came from the side of the church on the other side of the parking lot … They’re jumping on Tova. They’re all fighting … That’s when I ran out there and started breaking it up. That’s when one of the ladies said that she had a knife. I ran in and grabbed it.”