Crime and Courts for Jan. 12

Plea agreement likely in Grand View Arson case

A plea agreement has likely been reached with 18-year-old Cameron MacArthur of Amissville in the cases spawned by August’s burglary, arson and manhunt on Grand View Road, Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff  said Monday (Jan. 9) in Circuit Court.

Goff said MacArthur will plead guilty in court Feb. 2 to lesser charges in exchange for testifying against three other 18-year-olds charged with breaking and entering the weekend cabin of William Rowland on Aug. 20 – and then burning it to the ground, causing an estimated $300,000 worth of damage.

Of the other three facing seven felony charges each: Julious Ceasar Lucas of Woodville waived a jury hearing and will stand trial before a judge Feb. 27. Benjamin Hale of Castleton also waived jury hearing and will stand trial April 24. The seven felony cases against Erick Xavier Rodriguez of Woodville – the only one of the four released upon posting bail, the rest being held in the Rappahannock Jail – were continued to Feb. 1.

Hale was also indicted Monday on three new felony charges of breaking and entering at the elementary school and stealing a Poulan chainsaw and iPod docking station from Rowland’s home in June, before the fire. His preliminary hearing on those charges is Feb. 1.

An ongoing investigation into child pornography and molestation charges against 48-year-old James Carlton Benkelman – already facing 32 felony child pornography and sexual abuse charges – has led to 41 new felony indictments handed down by Monday’s grand jury. The new charges are all for possession and distribution of child pornography. His first next hearing is Jan. 19.

The existing 32 cases against Benkelman were severed on Dec. 15 into three groups with three different trial dates. A one-day trial for the child pornography charges is set for March 27. Felony cases involving the molestation of a young boy will be tried in a two-day trial May 17 and 18. Ten more felony cases involving the molestation of another young boy will be tried in a two-day trial format June 21 and 22.

Sandra Anne Knott, 46, of Stanley, did not show up for court Monday to face charges of issuing four bad checks totalling more than $200 to Hillsdale Country Store between Jan. 24 and Jan. 26. Added to the four larceny charges resulting from the bad checks, charges of speeding, eluding police, reckless driving and identity theft resulted from a routine speeding traffic stop. A writ of capias was issued for Knott’s arrest. Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Parker said that once she’s found, a date will be set to address these matters.

Judge Parker set two trial dates in drug cases Monday. Theotis Darnell Williams, 33, of Culpeper, will stand trial Feb. 13., for alleged possession of a schedule II drug (PCP) and possession of schedule IV drug (Alprazolam) after being stopped by Virginia State Trooper Phillip Thomas for displaying an expired inspection sticker and not wearing a seatbelt. Phyllis Rae Riley, 29, of Chester Gap will stand trial before a jury March 27, charged with possessing and distributing a schedule I/II drug (methadone).

Animal cases — continued

Former local chef Anthony Ahrens is due in District Court next Tuesday (Jan. 17), to be arraigned on a felony charge of animal abuse. Charged with a misdemeanor after his father summoned deputies to Ahrens’ home near Washington Dec. 26, for allegedly having fed a pet cat to his penned dogs on Christmas Eve, Ahrens appeared at an arraignment last week at which Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff announced the misdemeanor would be dropped and the more serious charge pursued.

Traffic cases dropped; judge blames ‘snafu’

Judge J. Gregory Ashwell dismissed a dozen traffic-related tickets in Rappahannock County General District Court on Jan. 3, saying the related summonses issued in all cases by former sheriff’s deputy Nick White were not sent to the court clerk’s office in time.

“There was a snafu somewhere along the line,” Ashwell said in court, before calling out the names on the 12 tickets and allowing the offenders to leave the courtroom. “It wasn’t the courts’ fault, and it wasn’t the defendant’s fault . . .”

Since all 12 traffic tickets were issued between Nov. 10 and Nov. 15, Ashwell and members of the district court clerk’s office wonder where the paperwork for those traffic summons were for the nearly two months before their court date. The initial response from a sheriff’s office spokesperson suggested it may have been because of holiday closings.

“Most of the summons were written Nov. 10 and 11; it has nothing to do with the holidays,” said District Court Clerk Patricia Davis. “Those tickets should have been in here at least by mid-December.”

Sheriff Connie Smith said this week the situation was the result of an “honest mistake,” the summonses having been written by White before he took an extended leave (after which he would join the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office, having been hired after the November election by Sheriff (and former RCSO chief deputy) Scott Jenkins. “They were in his ticket book in his patrol vehicle, and he honestly forgot to turn them in,” Smith said.

“You’re free!” Ashwell told three men that had arrived at court to face traffic charges, in all but one case for speeding-, equipment- or paperwork-related violations.

Daniel Rodman, 44, of Front Royal, who was facing a reckless driving charge for allegedly doing 81 in a 55-mph zone on U.S. 211 near Main Street in Washington – grinned and shook his head as he walked down the steps leading out. “This never happens!” Rodman said.