Where is Joseph McVay now? Everything we know

By Chege Karomo — ON Nov 18, 2022
Joseph McVay
Holmes County Public Defender Andy Hyde talks to 10-year-old Joseph A. McVay | Canton Repository

In January 2011, Joseph McVay argued with his mother, Deborah McVay, after she asked him to bring firewood into the house, said Shawna McVay, Joseph’s older sister. Joseph shouted he was tired of fighting with Deborah, strode to his bedroom, grabbed a .22 caliber rifle, and shot Deborah in the head. 

McVay, then a 10-year-old, went to a neighbor’s house, called emergency services, and told the dispatcher he’d shot his mother. “I shot my mom,” Joseph said. “I shot her with a gun.”

First responders found Deborah lying face down on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head; they declared her dead at the scene. 

Joseph’s whereabouts are unknown after he was placed in a residential treatment facility

The day after the shooting, Joseph pleaded not guilty to charges of killing his mom. Juvenile Court Judge Thomas C. Lee ordered Joseph’s detention in the Richland County Juvenile Detention facility. 

Joseph spent over a year at the facility before the authorities transferred him to a residential treatment facility. In August 2013, Judge Lee imposed a suspended Department of Youth Services commitment and ordered that Joseph continue his stay at the residential treatment facility. 

The judge opined that placing Joseph in a different institution would erode his progress with his therapist. Judge Lee said he considered that Joseph was raised by violent parents with criminal records and substance abuse issues. 

“It was a terrible decision to allow a kid with impulse control access to a gun,” Judge Lee said. Joseph had six guns in his room, given to him by his father, Mike. The .22 caliber he used to kill Deborah once belonged to his paternal grandfather. “This is just irresponsible parenting,” Judge Lee said. 

Joseph’s therapist, Jerry Hartman, said he had made impressive progress: “He is working through his trauma. Our goal has been to help him work through it, right or wrong, and help him to become a productive adult one day.”

Judge Lee’s rhetoric suggested he expected Joseph to rejoin society. If convicted, Joseph could remain in custody until he was 21 at the maximum. At the time of writing, McVay is over 21, so we suspect he was released from detention. Juvenile records are often sealed, so it’s difficult to access reliable information about him. 

The judge ordered that Joseph remain in the treatment facility so he could reintegrate into society successfully, regardless of his past. “He is going to be behind us in Walmart or at the gas station one day,” Judge Lee said. 

Joseph McVay’s whereabouts are unclear, but he’s likely left the prison system. 

Joseph’s sister asked the judge to impose the harshest sentence possible

After shooting Deborah, Joseph pointed the gun at his sister, Shawna. She begged him not to shoot her before watching him leave the residence to call 911. 

Shawna and Joseph lived in an unstable home led by parents who were physically abusive toward each other. The siblings lived in a dirty, cluttered, and unkempt home, police reported. Joseph’s parents didn’t abuse him physically, but they were emotionally and verbally abusive, a point made by Joseph’s attorney, Andy Hyde. 

“This wasn’t a physical abuse situation, Joey was beaten down every day to the point that was life as he knew it,” Hyde told the court. “He was told that night his mother wanted him gone, she never wanted to see him again, and that he was a worthless piece of shit.”

Through victim advocate Andy Zedella, Shawna requested the judge to impose the harshest sentence possible. Zedella said Joseph didn’t kill his mother to end ongoing abuse; he described Joseph as a dangerous child who murdered Deborah because she stood in his way. 

Holmes County Assistant Prosecutor Sean Warner also asked for the most severe sanction. “Deb McVay did not threaten him with violence,” Warner said. “He is not an abused child. He is an admitted juvenile delinquent.”

Judge Lee admitted that an element of culpability rested with Joseph: “It was his decision and his alone to go in, grab a .22 rifle and shoot his mother in the head. He knew what the result would be and he clearly knew right from wrong.”

The state didn’t get the outcome it requested, but it accepted the ruling, appreciating the difficulty of the task faced by Judge Lee. Holmes County Prosecutor Steve Knowling said:

“We’re not going to second-guess the judge, who had a very difficult decision to make and a lot of factors to consider.”