Nine months in jail for Chester Gap rape

After an emotional hour of pre-sentencing testimony, a Front Royal man who pleaded guilty in November to aggravated sexual battery was given nine months in jail in Rappahannock County Circuit Court Thursday morning (Feb. 21).

Summarizing evidence first heard at a Nov. 14 hearing, Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff said 39-year-old Phillip Matthew Held had been out drinking with friends on the night of Feb. 12, 2012. Goff said Held met the victim, Charlene Smelser of Chester Gap, at a 7-Eleven; afterwards, she invited him back to her home.

Held, a family friend Smelser said Thursday she had known since she was 12, returned to Smelser’s home with her and her friends, who continued drinking for a while, before Smelser said she was tired and went to her room. Thursday morning, Smelser testified she had been up for about 24 hours at that point, a combination of working and celebrating her friend’s birthday.

In her testimony, Smelser admitted she had been drinking earlier in the night, but not excessively; she said she had stopped drinking earlier and had stopped at the 7-Eleven for “some food and a Dr Pepper.” She said Held and his friends informed her they had nowhere to spend the night and were sleeping in their truck, which was why she invited the group over.

At some point during the night, Smelser said Held entered her room and tried to remove her covers; she told him to leave before going back to sleep. Smelser, who said she had no romantic interest in Held, said she remembered Held on top of her at some point during the night and tried to push him off, but passed out.

She said she awoke at 7:45 a.m. the next morning, disrobed from the waist down and called her then-boyfriend, who told her to lie still and remain where she was.

“I don’t know who to trust anymore,” Smelser said through tears. “This has completely wrecked my life and destroyed my relationship with my significant other . . . I have a little girl and I just hope she never has to go through anything like this.”

Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Ubben was the first to respond and found the victim lying in her bed, still partially undressed. Sheriff Connie Smith arrived and transported the victim to Winchester Medical Center. A DNA sample was taken at the hospital and matched to Held.

Capt. J.C. Welch of the RCSO interviewed Held on Feb. 13. Welch testified that Held claimed he was too drunk to remember anything that happened, and said that if anything did happen, it had to have been consensual. Held was later interviewed by Lt. Rusty McCoy of the Page County Sheriff’s Office; during that interview, Held claimed nothing happened between himself and Smelser.

“This has pretty much turned my world upside down . . . there’s been a lot of turmoil in my family over it,” said Held, wiping away tears.

Held, as his defense attorney Peter Hansen pointed out, is a father of two children, a four-year-old and an eight-month-old, and has another on the way with his girlfriend of three years, Stephanie Bane. Held said his 4-year-old was recently discovered not to be his biological son, but that he is currently in a custody dispute with his ex-girlfriend, who was recently released from prison.

David Bane, who is Stephanie’s father, two of Held’s neighbors and Bane herself testified as character witnesses. One neighbor said she had known Held for 15 years and while she was aware he had a criminal record, with multiple previous assault and battery charges, said that she had never known him to be violent and that he was “the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back.”

“The defense of these cases is always difficult,” Hansen admitted in his closing statement, “but . . . the choices they [Held and Smelser] made were brought about by the lifestyle they pursued . . . you have to judge him as much on the good things he’s done as the one which brings him here today . . . I ask that you give him the benefit of the sentencing guidelines.”

“Sexual assault is always judged from the victim’s perspective,” Goff said. Though Goff said he deferred to Judge Jeffrey W. Parker in the matter of sentencing, he did ask that a substance abuse program and zero future contact with Smelser be part of the sentence.

“I’m not going to just go by the guidelines,” Parker said to Held. “I’m free to impose up to 20 years on this if I see fit . . . and you don’t exactly have a pristine record. Far from it, in fact.”

Parker sentenced Held to four years in jail (all but nine months suspended), three years of supervised probation, ordered Held to enroll in a substance abuse program and barred him from any future contact with Smelser. Parker also ordered Held to register with police upon his release and forbade him from loitering around schools.

Castleton resident Gordon Wayne Frazier, 43, pleaded guilty to one count of possessing marijuana, one count of manufacturing marijuana and one count of distribution and was sentenced Thursday morning.

Summarizing evidence for the court, Goff said that the RCSO received an anonymous tip on July 27 that Frazier was growing marijuana plants around the pool behind his house. Welch went to investigate and, after confirming the plants were marijuana, obtained a search warrant.

During that search, Goff said police found a drying area for the plants upstairs, magazines on how to properly grow the plants, several plants and small bags of marijuana. Goff said he had reached a deal with Frazier’s defense attorney and, due to Frazier’s cooperation, was recommending leniency.

“I recommend you take advantage of this opportunity,” Parker advised Frazier prior to sentencing him. “I can guarantee you it won’t roll around a second time.”

Parker then sentenced Frazier to 12 months for the possession charge (all but 20 days suspended) and a $2,500 fine; 12 months and a $2,500 fine on the manufacturing charge (all suspended); and 30 days and a $2,500 fine for the distribution charge (all suspended).

Parker also placed Frazier on two years of supervised probation, suspended his driver’s license for the next six months and ordered him to complete 100 hours of community service by February 2014.