Last arsonist pleads in Grand View case

The final suspect in the Grand View arson case, 20-year-old Julious Caesar Lucas of Boston, pleaded guilty to 10 charges in Rappahannock Circuit Court Friday (June 8), seven related to the arson and three related to stealing and using a credit card just two weeks before the fire. The arson charge alone carries a sentence of five years to life in prison.

In accordance with a plea agreement reached between Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff and Lucas’ attorney, Nono Fischel, Lucas will be evaluated for the Youthful Offender Program (YOP). The boot-camp-style program for 18- to 25-year-old offenders requires a four-year commitment to incarceration at the Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake, Va., where inmates wear military fatigues and undergo rigorous physical and educational training, Goff said.

Benjamin Thomas Hale, 20, of Castleton, one of the four co-defendants in the case, pleaded guilty to 12 charges on April 24 in exchange for a chance to enter the same program.

Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. accepted the guilty pleas; Lucas will be sentenced Aug. 28.

If Lucas and Hale qualify for the program, they will be sentenced to 25 years in prison – though all of that will be suspended if they complete the four-year Youthful Offender Program without incident. (Stellar participants in the program may be released earlier, Goff said.) Upon release, the two will have 15 years of supervised probation.

Also, between the four defendants, $295,000 in restitution is owed, for the damage caused to the weekend home and property of William Rowland.

If the defendants don’t qualify for the program, they will be sentenced based on their pleas of guilt.

According to court evidence, verified with a Jan. 6 confession by 19-year-old co-defendant Cameron MacArthur of Amissville, the four teenagers broke into Rowland’s two-story cabin shortly after midnight last Aug. 20. After hours of drinking, cooking burritos and BB gun target practice, one of the boys fell and broke a dresser mirror. At that point, Goff said, Lucas suggested covering their tracks by burning the place down.

Goff said the boys split into two teams to find gasoline and other accelerants and arrange the furniture in a way that would speed the damage. After the house went up in flames, the prosecutor said the four fled the scene in a borrowed car, took a wrong turn down Grand View Road and wrecked into a bank. The boys began fighting, which alerted neighbors, and the four disappeared into the woods.

Within two hours, a neighborhood-wide manhunt brought them all into RCSO custody. MacArthur confessed first, Goff said, and was therefore offered a three-and-a-half-year Rappahannock Jail sentence in return for his statements against the other three.

Lucas appeared Friday in pinstripes, leg shackles and jail-issued orange crocs. Deputy clerk Lisa Welsted read out the 10 indictments, to which Lucas pleaded guilty.

“The Youthful Offender Program was an alternative brought up by Hale’s attorney, Mark Bailey,” Goff said later. “I agreed to the program because the defendants are so young, and because of the rigorous discipline in the program . . . I also presented the idea to the victim in this case, William Rowland, and he was for it, which is most important . . . And maybe the program will make a difference in their lives.”

Goff expects that 18-year-old defendant Erick Xavier Rodriguez’s attorney will make a motion for the Youthful Offender Program as well, which he won’t oppose.

“Certainly these boys were lucky to have survived that fire without serious injury,” Goff continued. “Depending how closely you read MacArthur’s confession transcript, you’d see that Lucas actually had to break back into the house through a front window after the fire had been set to save Rodriguez by dragging him out the front door. Rodriguez had closed himself inside the house, he was fall-down drunk and had decided to burn with it – but his half-brother saved his life.”