Alex Sharp VIII, 23, a frequent Rappahannock News freelance contributor and then full-time reporter starting last August, pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge last Thursday (July 5) in Rockingham County Circuit Court.
According to court records, he pleaded to the amended charge of “distribution to accommodate,” which brought a five-year state prison term, of which four years and five months were suspended. As part of a plea bargain, Sharp reportedly offered a so-called “Alford plea,” in which a defendant asserts his innocence but admits that sufficient evidence exists to convict him of the offense.
The original charge for possession with intent to manufacture a schedule I/II drug was based, according to court records, on an offense that occurred on May 5, 2010. The arrest occurred on July 18, 2011. Also at the time of that arrest, Sharp was charged with possession of a controlled substance, and subsequently, last Sept. 10, he was charged with public swearing and intoxication, for which he paid a fine in Rockingham/Harrisonburg General District Court.
A county native and Rappahannock County High School graduate, Sharp attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, where these offenses took place. As a Rappahannock News reporter, Sharp’s regular beat included the courts and crime, and he frequently reported on drug cases that were tried here.
“We were ignorant of Alex’s arrest record when we hired him,” said Rappahannock News Publisher Walter Nicklin. “When we were subsequently made aware of these criminal charges, and his intention to contest them, we made the decision to stand loyally and firmly with Alex.”
The newspaper’s readers were “well-served by this decision,” in Nicklin’s opinion. “Given his deep roots in and knowledge of Rappahannock, coupled with his college education in journalism, Sharp’s thorough reporting and interestingly written stories brought consistent praise across the community, not only from readers but also from the subjects of his stories themselves.”
Before entering his Alford plea, Sharp wrote a letter to be shared with the newspaper’s readers, which is published in this week’s edition, as is Nicklin’s editorial, sharing further thoughts on the subject.