By Michael Melkonian
An Amissville woman accused of murdering her husband before shooting herself in the head pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Monday morning in Fauquier County Circuit Court.
Originally facing first-degree murder charges, Judy Kay Deal, pleaded guilty in exchange for lesser charge. This charge-bargaining between the defendant and the commonwealth’s attorney took the place of any kind of sentencing agreement.
Sentences for the second degree murder range from five to 40 years in prison, said James Fisher, Fauquier County’s commonwealth’s attorney. First-degree murder convictions can bring lifetime prison sentences.
The judge, not a jury, will impose the sentence for the guilty plea. Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker accepted the guilty plea Monday and will likely sentence Deal, Fisher said.
The benefit to the commonwealth of taking the guilty plea for a lesser charge is that 40 years is effectively a life sentence for Deal, who is now 60 years old, he said. With a guilty plea, the defendant will lose appeal rights to the three and half years of court actions leading up to the conviction.
“This is a case that a lot of prosecutors in Virginia wouldn’t even touch,” Fisher said.
Early in the case, state doctors said Deal couldn’t be prosecuted, he said. Deal was at one time called “unrestorably incompetent” because of brain damage from the self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“To get from that to where we are today, we are pleased that justice will be done and that we were able to bring some closure in a very difficult case,” Fisher said.
The nearly four-year-old case stems from a Nov. 20, 2011 incident at a Crest Hill Road home near Hume.
Deputies sent to a Crest Hill Road residence for a reported shooting around 4:30 p.m. that day found two victims inside the residence.
Deal was charged with shooting her estranged husband, John M. Deal, 60, in the torso at his home on Crest Hill Road on Nov. 20, 2011, according to a search warrant. The shot came after a heated argument between the two.
Deal then allegedly turned the gun on herself, shooting herself in the head.
Judy Deal was airlifted to INOVA Fairfax Hospital where she had emergency surgery.
At an initial hearing, a circuit judge determined Deal was not competent to stand trial. In following months, she had undergone mental rehabilitation at Fauquier Health Outpatient Rehabilitation Services and Prince William Neuroscience Center.
In the years following the indictment, Deal has undergone a number of competency evaluations to make sure she was fit to stand trial. A jury trial was scheduled for Aug. 20, but with the guilty plea, the trial is withdrawn.
The victim’s sister, Ann Deal Coates said the conviction marked relief, finally.
“After nearly four years, we finally got the truth,” Coates said.
Coates said the last four years have been haunting.
“Everybody who knew John would says he was a great guy. He worked every day to take care of his family and children,” she said.
Deal had been gone for 10 years when she decided she would end his life the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Coates said.
“I’ll never have another enjoyable Thanksgiving,” Coates said.
Coates and her family, including her other brothers and mother, 89, are relieved and waiting for the sentencing in October now, she said.
It’s not really closure, Coates said, but at least it’s justice.