This past week in Rappahannock County’s Circuit and District Courts has been surprising, to say the least. On Thursday, March 16, a planned jury trial in circuit court had to be rescheduled when the defendant, who was appealing a lower court ruling, did not show up.
On Friday, March 17, a young man with a record of prior speeding offenses was found guilty of reckless driving and left the court in tears.
And on Tuesday, March 21, Washington resident Heidi Lesinski, the wife of Rappahannock County Supervisor John Lesinski, appeared in general district court, having been charged with assault.
When you demand a jury trial and then don’t show up
What looked to be a fairly normal jury trial day in Rappahannock Circuit Court on March 16 was anything but. The defendant, Kenneth Eugene Bennett — the Winchester man who asked for a jury trial in the first place to appeal the guilty ruling handed down in Rappahannock County District Court on December 13 — did not show up.
In district court he pleaded not guilty to charges of a first offense of DWI, driving with an open container of alcohol and driving under a revoked or suspended license. All three charges stemmed from an incident on Oct. 9, 2016. According to the criminal complaint, Rappahannock County Sheriff’s deputy Sgt. M. Dodson was responding to a residential burglar alarm on Rock Mills Road when he encountered the vehicle driven by Bennett.
At the time, Bennett was driving approximately 15 mph in the 45 mph zone. When he executed a right turn into a driveway without signaling, Dodson stopped him, questioned him and determined that he was intoxicated.
Meanwhile, back in circuit court, the two dozen or so prospective jurors sat in the courtroom gallery waiting for the jury selection to begin. Judge Jeffrey W. Parker was seated on the bench, court clerks standing by. Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff, stood, introduced himself and then the defendant’s court-appointed attorney Mark Bailey.
But there was no sign of the 40-year-old Kenneth Eugene Bennett.
Parker apologized to the jurors and released them. Later, Goff issued a warrant for Bennett’s arrest.
Tears for a speeder
In the March 17 circuit court session, a stern Judge Herman A. Whisenant brought a defendant to tears.
Amissville resident Forrest Richmond, 24, was stopped shortly after midnight on Oct. 8, 2016, after Dodson clocked him driving 77 mph in the 35 mph zone of Viewtown Road. Dodson found no evidence of drug or alcohol use, and Richmond offered no excuse for speeding.
In his district court appearance in December, Richmond pleaded for leniency, as he has to drive for his work, but was instead sentenced to 30 days in jail, with 25 days suspended. His driver’s license was also suspended for 90 days.
A subsequent examination of Richmond’s driving record revealed several previous speeding violations in Rappahannock and surrounding counties, resulting in multiple demerit points on his driving record.
He appealed the guilty verdict in circuit court before Whisenant, presenting evidence that his speedometer was not correctly calibrated at the time of the stop. A professional test indicated that his speedometer was off by several miles of speed.
But neither Goff nor Whisenant was buying it. Even with the problem with the speedometer, said Goff, “Mr. Richmond was driving at twice the posted speed limit.”
Richmond’s attorney John Spurlock argued that before this appearance in circuit court, his client had taken two remedial driving courses.
“Although he has a history of speeding violations,” said Spurlock, “Mr. Richmond has been trying to take responsibility for his actions.”
Before finding Richmond guilty, Whisenant addressed him directly.
“Sometime conduct speaks louder than words,” said the judge, who sentenced Richmond to 120 days in jail, all suspended, and ordered him to pay a $1000 fine within 90 days. Richmond was also given 12 months of supervised probation.
“This is all up to you,” said Whisenant. “If you violate probation you face 120 days in jail. You have to correct your behavior.”
Richmond left court wiping his eyes.
(More details of this case were reported in a RappNews story on Dec. 20, 2016. Read the story online at https://rappnews.com/2016/12/20/speeding-brings-five-days-in-jail/)
Supervisor’s wife charged with misdemeanor assault
On March 7, Washington resident Edmund Kavanagh, 86, had neighbor Heidi Lesinski, 50, served with a temporary protective order. Kavanagh states in the complaint filed with the county that “on or about February 20” while at Lesinski’s house, “she attacked, punched me …”
At the time, he refused to press criminal charges. However, before appearing in district court on March 21, Kavanagh changed the charge to assault. Lesinski’s arraignment is set for April 11, and the case has been continued to May 9 for further disposition.