Culpeper man guilty in robbery, murder attempt

File photo of Thomas Lee Hicks

From staff and contributed reports
A 62-year-old Boston handyman was convicted last Thursday (March 31) by a Rappahannock Circuit Court jury of attempted murder, aggravated malicious wounding, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and robbery in the shooting last June 10 near Scrabble of Clyde “Jack” Dellinger.

The jury in the trial of Thomas Lee Hicks was permitted to hear testimony that the victim had given at a preliminary hearing, since the 79-year-old Dellinger died on Jan. 24 of causes that a state medical examiner determined were unrelated to his wounding. He had suffered a gunshot wound to the head during the robbery at his Scrabble Road home seven months earlier.

At an Aug. 3 hearing, when asked if Hicks was the person who shot and robbed him, Dellinger was quoted by Sheriff Connie C. Smith as saying, “That is him,” as Dellinger pointed to Hicks in the courtroom. “He looks different, but that is him.” Dellinger’s daughter-in-law, Paula Dellinger, who was also at the preliminary hearing, testified likewise.

Other damaging testimony in the two-day trial included that of Hicks’ wife, Barbara, who told the court that Hicks had said to her earlier on the day of the shooting that “I’m going to collect money or kill the guy.”

Other than Dellinger’s identification of his assailant at the preliminary hearing, most of the evidence against Hicks was circumstantial. Several witnesses saw what appeared to be an argument between the two men before the shooting. While the gunshot was heard by several neighbors around 8 p.m., no one saw the shooting,

Luis Torres testified he had loaned Hicks his blue Geo Metro and that Hicks was driving it on the date of the crime. Several other witnesses also put Hicks in the Geo that day.

Marcia Fincham testified she was driving home shortly before 8 the evening of the shooting and was going to stop at Dellinger’s shop to see about buying a lawnmower. She said she slowed to pull in but saw Hicks in such a heated argument with Dellinger that she was afraid to stop, and continued on. She testified she will never forget the look on Hicks’ face. She recognized Hicks and the blue Geo from having previously seen him on Scrabble Road.

Witness “Lucky” McCoy, who the prosecution presented as the last person to see Dellinger before he was shot, said he stopped by Dellinger’s shop between 7:30 and 8 and saw Dellinger leaning into the passenger side of what he identified as being a blue Geo Metro, speaking to a man behind the wheel in a loud voice.

When he was later found, the victim was on the ground on the passenger side of where the Geo was last seen parked. State Police forensic technicians found primer residue which could have been left by a firearm’s discharge on the inside of the passenger side door of the Geo, which was later found at Hicks’ home.

As they drove up to Jack Dellinger’s home just before finding the victim at about 8, Dellinger’s son, Daniel, and his wife, Paula, passed a car speeding away that matched the description of the Geo Metro that Hicks was driving.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter H. Luke called more than a dozen witnesses, whose testimony painted a picture of a desperate man who was about to be evicted from a home in Boston, and who had worked as a carpenter on the renovation at the Scrabble School senior center just across the road from Dellinger’s home — where the older man operated a cash-only small-engine-repair shop — and who had planned to rob the older man at gunpoint.

The gun, which Sheriff’s Office and State Police investigators concluded was probably a .380 pistol, which Torres said Hicks acquired from him the morning of the shooting, was never recovered. And the bullet, which had remained in the victim’s body in an inoperable position next to his spine, had fragmented so badly that when it was removed after Dellinger’s death, investigators could not identify its caliber or source.

Son Daniel Dellinger, who was the one who found his wounded father in the yard, said the elder Dellinger said he’d been shot and robbed by “Tom Thompson or Thomason.”

Prosecution witness James Hackley told the court that Dellinger had introduced Hicks to him as “Tommy Thompson,” and that Dellinger, at his shop, dealt primarily “in cash — he had a roll of money in his pocket.” He said he had seen Thompson (Hicks) and Dellinger at Dellinger’s shop six or eight times.

Other evidence also established that Hicks had begun hanging around Dellinger’s shop for several weeks before the crime and had been doing odd jobs for Dellinger. The prosecution later used this testimony to argue to the jury that Hicks had used an alias in his dealings with Dellinger because he was planning to rob him.

Torres, who had originally sold Hicks a rare .40-caliber pistol in January 2010, testified that on the morning of the shooting Hicks appeared at his home and wanted a smaller gun for his wife, a claim Hick’s wife later denied. Torres then traded Hicks a .380 caliber pistol for the .40 caliber gun. The day after the shooting when Torres asked Hicks how he liked the new gun, Hicks said he did not have it anymore.

Larry Levy, who said Hicks had become his tenant in April or May of 2010, told the jury that by June, Hicks was two months behind in his rent, and that he told his tenant if he didn’t catch up soon he would start the eviction process. On the night of June 10, he said, Hicks showed up with a wad of cash and paid the overdue rent plus a month in advance — $1,200 in all.

After he paid Levy, Barbara Hicks testified, Hicks came home in the blue Geo and still had another $600, and gave her $140 for groceries and $50 to her son for gas.

No one could say how much money Dellinger was carrying the night he was shot, or how much was missing.

Public defender Lorie O’Donnell, who suggested in her opening statement that the police had “limited” their search for the shooter by focusing on Hicks, only called one witness — public defender investigator Patrick Fitzgerald, who recounted his earlier conversation with Levy. Fitzgerald testified that Levy told him that Hicks came to pay his back rent at 7:30 or 8 p.m. June 10, about the time that Dellinger was shot. Fitzgerald also testified Torres had told him the .380 he had traded to Hicks was loaded with yellow-jacketed hollow-point bullets. However, there was never any evidence introduced as to the type of bullet eventually removed from the victim.

“He intended to kill Mr. Dellinger,” Luke said during final arguments, “because he shot him at close range, between the eyes.”
The jury deliberated two hours before returning guilty verdicts on all four charges against Hicks.

After the jury found Hicks guilty, and before they began their deliberations as to an appropriate sentence, the Commonwealth was able to give the jury copies of the defendant’s prior convictions, which included two robberies, conspiracy to commit robbery and grand larceny. The defense asked the jury to consider Hicks’ age and his health (he suffers from type 2 diabetes) in deciding the sentence.

Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker heard the jury’s sentencing recommendations — a total of 48 years, plus a $50,000 fine — and set June 17 for imposition of sentence.

Hicks is still awaiting trial on charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Roger L. Foster contributed to this report.

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