In Rappahannock County Circuit Court during the last week, a 21-year-old Washington resident was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for two sex crimes, and a jury convicted a former tenant of a property owned by William James “Bill” Fletcher of grand larceny for cutting and selling timber on his property last spring without his permission.
This Tuesday (Sept. 25), Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant sentenced Travis Edward Hilley, who pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated sexual battery and possession of child pornography, to 10 years in a state penitentiary for the aggravated sexual battery charge (with all but 17 months suspended), and five years for the child pornography charge (all suspended). Following his release, Hilley will be on supervised probation for three years and unsupervised probation for 17 years.
The battery charge stems from a late-night sexual encounter Hilley had with an 18-year-old female in his Gid Brown Hollow home, where, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff’s statement earlier in court, the victim ate ramen noodles and smoked marijuana last Sept. 30, along with several others. After the others went to sleep or left, the victim said she became dizzy and partially paralyzed, “unable to move her limbs and unable to talk,” Goff said. Hilley then undressed the victim partially on the couch in the living room and had sexual intercourse with her against her will, Goff said, adding that when the victim regained consciousness after some time, she was able to leave the property.
The child pornography charge against Hilley stems from the later discovery of a 19-second video clip showing a 9- or 10-year-old girl engaged in oral sex with an adult male, a video found on Hilley’s computer after it had been confiscated by the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office as part of a search warrant.
In a full-day circuit court trial last Thursday (Sept. 20), a jury found Miriam L. White, a former Sperryville tenant of Bill Fletcher, guilty of four counts of grand larceny.
In his opening statement, Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff told Judge Jeffrey W. Parker and the jury that while the 50-year-old White and her family were renting Fletcher’s property – formally known as on 14048 Lee Hwy. LLC – White cut down several trees and sold them for approximately $5,700 without the knowledge or consent of the property’s owner.
White’s attorney, Scott Hook, attempted to prove that White acted on the belief she had Fletcher’s permission, and that the property owner changed his mind when money for the timber began changing hands.
Fletcher testified that he had indeed rented out part of the property to White and that she had asked his permission to cut down trees for firewood and make trails for horses on the property. He consented to both – “I wish more people would come and chop up firewood,” he said in court – and White signed a two-year lease at $5,000 per month.
Fletcher said he told White not to touch the holly tree in the front yard or any of the numerous Japanese maple trees on the property. “I think old trees add to the property,” said Fletcher, who serves as agent of the LLC, which operates as a trust for his children.
Fletcher said he only found out that White was cutting down and selling timber when one of his friends called last April 11 to ask him when he had decided to start logging his property. According to Chad Abate, a Culpeper County sheriff’s deputy who was employed with the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) at the time, Fletcher and White had a verbal dispute about the removal of the trees in his presence.
White testified that she had hired Leonard Cameron, the owner of a logging company, to haul away some trees to help create horse trails. Cameron said he met with White in late March and walked the property with her, pointing out which trees he would like to take, including a 200-year old oak tree. Cameron would cut down the trees, haul them away and split the profits with White equally.
Cameron testified that he had no idea Fletcher was the owner of the property, and that he only found out that was the case when Fletcher called him to ask why he had been logging on Fletcher’s property. Cameron said he hauled away several truckloads of trees (valued at approximately $11,000) between March 29 and April 5, and was removing a 10th load when Fletcher told him he was the property owner; Cameron said he immediately ceased the operation.
White testified that she believed she had permission to cut down the trees because Fletcher had given her permission to make horse trails on the property. To do that, she testified, some trees needed to be removed. White said she recalled at least three distinct conversations, with witnesses, where Fletcher had given her permission to make the horse trails, even telling her to “do what [she] want[ed]. It’s your property.”
According to Sheriff’s Capt. J.C. Welch, he had a meeting with White in late April, at which she expressed the belief that she was the owner of the property. White said she never claimed to be the property owner and never meant to steal anything from Fletcher; she said she reinvested the proceeds in the property, installing a hot water heater, moving a washer and dryer, putting up fencing and gates and more.
“It had always been my intention to purchase the property,” White testified. She said she was cutting the trees down to make “nice, wide horse trails,” which she had Fletcher’s permission to do. White said as she understood the lease agreement – which had a clause allowing her to purchase the property for approximately $1 million – she was purchasing the property, and had until January 2013 to change her mind.
“This case boils down to common sense,” Goff told the 11-woman, one-man jury during his closing statement. “If you are the owner of a property, you need not ask permission to do something.” Goff then said that Fletcher’s role as agent of the LLC requires him to make money off the property, and it would make no sense for him to simply give away a large quantity of timber to someone else. “Why would he give away something that belonged to his children to a total stranger?” Goff said.
“You must send a message that stealing in Rappahannock County has severe consequences,” said Goff, who encouraged the jury to find White guilty and sentence her to jail time.
“Mrs. White went to Mr. Fletcher out of common courtesy,” said Hook, the defense attorney. Hook argued that the process of cutting the trees down and dragging them away had been the first step in creating the horse trails White desired.
“Dollar signs caused the problem,” insisted Hook. “Mr. Fletcher gave her his broad permission until he realized he could make money off of it. Don’t let her be the scapegoat for this.”
After about 90 minutes of deliberation, the jury reconvened and found White guilty on four counts of grand larceny – eliciting sobs from the defendant’s family and friends.
“I never meant to hurt anybody,” White insisted after hearing the verdict. “It had always been our dream to build this sort of property.”
The jury’s sentencing recommendation was a fine of $2,500 per charge, as well as two months in prison, per charge. White, also a defendant in two civil actions adjudicated in Rappahannock County during the last two years, is currently out on bond and will be sentenced by a judge Dec. 20.
Lloyd Timothy Freeman, a 47-year old Front Royal resident, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to one charge of grand larceny and one charge of violent felony possession. According to prosecutor Goff, Freeman was employed by Helen and Richard Koldewey between November 2011 and April of this year. During that time, Freeman stole several guns from the couple, including two 12-gauge shotguns, a .410-gauge shotgun and a pump-action .22 caliber rifle. Goff said Freeman pawned those guns at National Pawn Brokers, an Arlington pawn shop, receiving several hundred dollars for them.
Freeman, who has previous felony convictions in Texas, was subsequently charged with the illegal possession of the weapons. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 12.