Bail bondsman’s story doesn’t convince jury

In a rare appellate-court trial for a misdemeanor assault, it took a seven-person Rappahannock County Circuit Court jury less than 20 minutes last Wednesday (June 11) to deliver a “not guilty” verdict in favor of an Amissville man accused of assault and battery last August.

Culpeper fugitive-recovery agent and bail bondsman Ronald W. Lee filed the assault charge against 41-year-old Jeremy Walker after an altercation occurred in Walker’s Amissville residence. Walker was later convicted in district court and sentenced to 80 days in jail before filing the request for a jury trial.

Meanwhile, the 54-year-old Lee — in Culpeper County Circuit Court the day before — had his concealed weapons permit revoked pending two recent charges stemming from a shooting incident May 21 at his home in Lignum. Lee faces a felony charge of shooting inside an occupied building and reckless handling of a firearm, a misdemeanor; court records say he fired a rifle several times after an argument with his wife, Nora, his partner in the bail bond operation.

In Rappahannock court for the Walker case, Lee testified that he and Nora went to Walker’s residence last Aug. 21 to arrest Vickie Cranson, who had failed to appear in Lee’s office earlier that day. Lee said that Cranson had been mistakenly released by the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office; Walker’s home was the address she’d provided.

Lee said that he and his wife identified Cranson through a window, then split up to cover both the front and rear doors. While Nora knocked on the front door, Lee said he went around to the back. Cranson, Lee testified, tried to escape out the back door, saw him and ran back inside the house, eventually trying to shut herself in an upstairs bathroom.

Lee said he followed Cranson into the house and wedged his foot in the bathroom door, preventing her from closing it all the way. Lee said he called his wife up to the bathroom to deal with Cranson, at which point a shoving match occurred between him and Walker.

Lee said he had explained to Walker that he was “only there for Vickie,” but Walker insisted he had no right to be in the house and continually asked him to leave. Lee said that, while Nora was talking with Vickie in the bathroom, Walker shoved him before punching him in the head.

“He drew a little blood, but in this profession you expect that,” Lee said.

Both sides agreed that sometime prior to the alleged fight, one of Walker’s four-year-olds had wandered into the bathroom and was picked up by Cranson, who was holding the child as a shield to prevent Lee from putting her in handcuffs.

After allegedly being hit in the head, the Lees left Walker’s house and called the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office, who eventually arrested Cranson after she tried (and failed) to flee into the nearby woods.

Walker offered a different versions of events, however, one that was reinforced by testimony from Alyson Newsom, who was living in the house at the time. Walker testified that Newsom came into his bedroom complaining of a loud banging on the front door.

“It sounded like the door was being busted in,” Newsom said.

Both Newsom and Walker then said they were “blinded by really bright flashlights” as the Lees, who Walker said failed to identify themselves or their reason for being there, came into the house looking for Cranson. Walker said Lee scratched one of his child’s arms while looking for Cranson, and said he repeatedly asked the Lees to leave “and take it outside.”

Walker added that he never shoved or struck Lee, but was deeply concerned for his children’s well-being, as well as Newsom’s then one-year-old, who was also in the house.

Lee countered that he “didn’t recall using any flashlights,” said that he had no contact with any of three children in the house and denied either he or his wife had broken down the front door. Photos taken by RCSO Sgt. Ronnie Dodson showed damage to the front door, including the deadbolt lying on the floor with several of the screws removed.

In his closing statement, Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff denied the children were ever in danger, and implored the jury to return a guilty verdict, pointing out that Walker’s past troubles with the law impeached his testimony.

“It’s unusual to have two diametrically opposed versions of what happened . . . What really happened is what Mr. Lee said happened . . . [and] common sense will tell you that.”

Kevin Garrity, Walker’s defense counsel, also implored the jurors to use their common sense, and advocated for a “not guilty” finding. “Mr. Walker’s past brushes with the law have nothing to do with this case,” Garrity said.

The Lees’ story “doesn’t add up . . . and if you’re not sure who to believe — even if you believe Mr. Lee is probably telling the truth — that’s reasonable doubt,” Garrity added.

The jurors apparently agreed, as they returned a “not guilty” verdict shortly thereafter.

DUI, other charges bring jail time

Circuit court resumed on Monday (June 16), as several people pleaded guilty or were sentenced to a variety of charges.

Washington resident Phillip Keith Butler, who pleaded guilty to a DUI charge (his third in five years and subsequently a felony) in April, was sentenced to three years in jail.

Summarizing evidence at the time, Goff said RCSO Deputy Brandon Smoot observed the 52-year-old Butler’s car stalled in a turn lane between U.S. 211 and Viewtown Road last July 18.

Goff said Smoot observed Butler attempting to blow into an ignition interlock system installed on his car — a device issued by the Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP) that prompts drivers to register random breath samples before the vehicle can be started. Goff said Smoot also noticed “heavy vegetation” clinging to the car, and subsequently issued Butler four field sobriety tests, all of which he failed.

Blood work, Goff added, later revealed a combination of prescription medication in Butler’s system which would have “slowed down his reaction time” and impaired his driving ability.

While Butler’s attorney asked for home incarceration to allow Butler to take care of his daughter, Goff said he considered Butler “a danger to the public on the highway” and asked for jail time. “You can’t be taking care of your daughter if you’re sitting in the median,” agreed Judge Herman A. Whisenant.

Whisenant then sentenced Butler to three years in jail (26 months suspended), placed him on two years of supervised probation, fined him $1,500 and suspended his license indefinitely.

Jerry Wayne Vanover, charged with failure to report an accident where someone was seriously injured, was also sentenced Monday.

Summarizing evidence for the court, Goff said the 50-year-old Vanover was driving a GMC pickup truck near Chester Gap last Oct. 16 when he collided, head-on, with a Ford Explorer driven by Thomas Williams.

Vanover continued driving for a short distance, Goff said, before flipping his truck and leaving the scene of that crash to walk to a friend’s house. Vanover told Virginia State Police Trooper Phillip Thomas he had dropped a cigarette in his lap, looked down to get it and hit Williams’ truck. When asked why he didn’t stop, Vanover admitted he “freaked out” after the accident. Goff said police determined alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Whisenant sentenced Vanover to two years in jail (20 months suspended), placed him on supervised probation for two years and suspended his license for six months.

Steven Lynwood Comer, 46, of Stanley, pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine; he is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 23.

Summarizing evidence, Goff said Comer was pulled over by the Virginia State Police for speeding last March 13. After detecting a marijuana odor from the car, Goff said the trooper searched Comer’s car and discovered a plastic baggie, razor and straw.

Jennifer Lynn Groover also pleaded guilty Monday morning, to one felony count of possessing morphine. As part of a plea agreement, a second misdemeanor charge (possessing or distributing controlled paraphernalia) will be dropped.

Summarizing evidence, Goff said that Groover, 29, of Fredericksburg, was involved in a car accident on U.S. 522 near Sperryville last June 30. During a search of the vehicle, RCSO Deputy Paul Domingoes discovered syringes and a spoon in her purse, which later tested positive for morphine. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 23.

Thomas Leroy Walter III was the last person sentenced Monday, after he pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a firearm after being convicted of a felony. Goff said the 42-year-old Huntly resident was caught by the RCSO and a game warden with a rifle last Nov. 23 after killing a deer.

Whisenant sentenced Walter to two years in jail (17 months suspended) and placed him on “good behavior — not probation” for two years.

Arrests

Last Thursday (June 12), a vehicle operated by 23-year-old Cody Dane Perkins of Centreville drove into Rappahannock County while eluding deputies from the Page County Sheriff’s Office. The vehicle continued to elude RCSO deputies for eight miles before being stopped in a grass median. In addition to charges in Page, Perkins was arrested by Deputy Christopher Koglin and charged with felony disregard of a law enforcement command, driving on a suspended license, reckless driving and failure to wear a seatbelt.

On the morning of June 13, as a result of a traffic stop at the intersection of U.S. 211 and U.S. 522, Deputy Chris Ubben charged Christopher R. Harris, 25, of Sperryville, with possession of marijuana.