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Man jailed for ‘senseless’ churchyard murder after stabbing man with screwdriver

A man who murdered another by stabbing him in the head with a blunt screwdriver in a churchyard has been jailed for life and will serve at least 25 years in prison.

Melusi Madaweni killed 26-year-old Billy Pearson on the grounds of Chesterfield Parish Church, also known as the Crooked Spire, in Derbyshire in the early hours of August 7 2022.

Before sentencing the 30-year-old on Monday, Judge Robert Egbuna told Derby Crown Court that Madaweni had refused to attend out of “some form of protest” but said that the defendant “seemed happy” for the hearing to proceed in his absence.

Labelling the murder as a “callous and brutal act”, Judge Egbuna said: “You adopted a boxer’s stance to generate as much speed and power as one could, and struck downward toward Billy Pearson’s head.

“Regardless of the reasons that led to the returning to Melusi Madaweni’s home, arming himself with two screwdrivers and searching for Billy Pearson, this was a death in my view borne out of anger, having heard the evidence, and a desire for revenge

“It was a senseless killing. You have caused untold misery due to your rage.”

Mr Pearson was out with friends in Chesterfield on the night of August 7 last year when they came across Madaweni in the churchyard, with the two sides exchanging words.

Billy Pearson
Billy Pearson was 26 when he was murdered on the grounds of Chesterfield Parish Church (Derbyshire Police/PA)

But the conversation became heated when one of Mr Pearson’s friends accused him of selling them fake drugs, which later turned into an altercation which saw Madaweni kicked.

He left the scene and returned to his home in Chester Street, Chesterfield, arming himself with two screwdrivers and taking with him a balaclava and fingerless gloves, returning to the town centre to search for Mr Pearson.

After locating him, Madaweni stabbed him in the head, penetrating his brain. His life support was turned off six days later.

Police stopped Madaweni minutes after the attack after he was seen running near to the church, telling police that Mr Pearson tried to attack him and that he had taken a screwdriver from him.

But after a two-week trial earlier this month, a jury took less than an hour to unanimously reject Madaweni’s account that Mr Pearson had taken the screwdrivers to the scene and that he had returned to the town centre to give them back.

Reading out a statement written by Mr Pearson’s mother, prosecutor Gordon Aspden KC said: “I still can’t believe that Billy is gone, it does not seem real.

“We lived together, I keep expecting him to walk back in through the door.

“He had his whole life ahead of him. No parent should have to bury their child, but to lose them like this in such a violent and horrible way is cruel.”

Mr Pearson leaves behind a three-year-old daughter.

In her statement, Mrs Pearson said: “She knows he is gone and not coming back but she can’t seem to process it.

“She told me not to worry as Daddy is on the moon, looking over us, and it breaks my heart.

“She will never get to know and grow up with him.”

Madaweni was sentenced in his absence at Derby Crown Court (Rui Vieira/PA)
Madaweni was sentenced in his absence at Derby Crown Court (Rui Vieira/PA)

Kevin Hegarty KC, mitigating, said that Madaweni moved to the UK from his birthplace of Harare, Zimbabwe, aged 17 and after having some success as a boxer, later became involved in drug-taking, before moving to Chesterfield to distance himself from criminality.

Mr Hegarty said: “There is a history of paranoia, but nothing that raises anything close to a defence to the charges that he faces.

“He believed that there were people out to get him.

“Had there not been the violence that was earlier directed towards him, there is no reason to believe that this would ever have happened.

“His animosity towards Billy Pearson was shortlived and only arose half an hour before the death.”

A second charge of possessing an offensive weapon will lie on the file.

The judge also asked for six Derbyshire Constabulary officers involved in the case to be commended for their investigation.