Final defendant pleads guilty in 2014 Virginia slaying

More than 2 1/2 years after a Virginia man was fatally stabbed at the behest of his girlfriend, a fourth defendant has admitted to his role in the plot.

Anthony James Isham

More than 2½ years after a Virginia man was fatally stabbed at the behest of his girlfriend, a fourth defendant has admitted to his role in the plot.

Anthony James Isham, 44, of Nett Lake, pleaded guilty Monday in State District Court in Virginia to a charge of intentional second-degree murder in the April 2014 slaying of 28-year-old Harley Jacka inside a Virginia apartment.

Isham was the last remaining defendant in the case. Jacka’s girlfriend admitted last year that she arranged the killing because she was having difficulty breaking up with Jacka.

Isham testified Monday that he stabbed Jacka three times “in concert with others,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jon Holets said.

Isham will face a guideline prison term of slightly more than 30 years when he appears for sentencing before 6th Judicial District Judge James Florey on Dec. 19.


The defendant accepted the plea agreement with the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office at a Monday hearing that originally had been scheduled to argue his motion for a change of venue and to challenge the admissibility of his statements to law enforcement. He was set to go to trial in February.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss a charge of premeditated first-degree murder. If convicted of that charge, Isham would have faced a mandatory life sentence.

“We hope that the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility for his role in this monstrous crime helps Mr. Jacka’s family and the community as a whole move toward closure,” Holets said in a statement.

Defense attorney Kassius Benson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday afternoon.

The case has been prolonged due to a number of unusual turns.

Jacka was found dead on April 29, 2014, in an apartment at 207 First St. in Virginia. An autopsy found he had been stabbed 15 times in the head, face, neck and chest. Four knives were found at the scene, according to court documents.

Three men - Anthony Isham, John Edward Isham and Bartholamy Jake Drift - were initially charged with second-degree murder.

Then, in August 2015, Janessa Lynn Peters came forward to confess that she had arranged Jacka's murder.


In interviews with police and in court testimony, she said she was having trouble ending a relationship with Jacka and asked Drift, with whom she was also in a relationship, to kill him. She also testified that the Isham cousins "probably jumped in" on the killing.

Drift confirmed that Peters asked him to kill Jacka but testified that it was Anthony Isham who started the incident. He said John Isham had left the apartment by that time and was not involved in the stabbing.

Drift, 41, and Peters, 22, both pleaded guilty last year to intentional second-degree murder charges and agreed to cooperate with grand jury and trial proceedings for the remaining co-defendants.

Attorneys agreed to hold off sentencing hearings for Drift and Peters, pending resolution of the co-defendants’ cases. Drift faces a presumptive prison sentence of more than 32 years in prison, while Peters faces about 27 years.

The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office in November 2015 convened a grand jury, securing first-degree murder indictments against the Isham cousins.

John Isham, 40, accepted a plea agreement in March, pleading guilty to aiding an offender after the fact. He was sentenced to 6½ years in prison.

For Anthony Isham, the final holdout, the case took another unusual turn this spring when his public defenders asked to be discharged from the case, saying they were threatened by their client.

The attorneys, Kevin Cornwell and Kimberly Corradi, testified that Isham became "hostile" during a March strategy meeting at the Virginia courthouse, stating that there would be "repercussions " and that "things can happen from behind bars" if the case was not handled to his liking.


Florey found that Isham had engaged in "extremely serious misconduct" and granted the attorneys' request to be taken off the case, but said Isham was still entitled to counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

Benson, a Minneapolis attorney, was appointed in July by the state public defender's office to represent Isham.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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