Flint Hill man guilty of voluntary manslaughter in death of Harris Hollow resident
While a Rappahannock County jury recommended eight months in jail for Flint Hill resident Randy Lynn Smoot — found guilty last week of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Harris Hollow resident Jonas “Jay” Alther — Judge Jeffrey W. Parker will ultimately decide the punishment based on additional factors.
The jury issued its verdict on the third day of Smoot’s murder trial in Rappahannock County Circuit Court after deliberating for three and a half hours. It took the same jury less than 20 minutes to recommend that Smoot serve eight months in jail.
But Judge Parker will review sentencing guidelines and the convict’s criminal record, which includes several alcohol-related offenses, and sentence Smoot on September 10.
Smoot was initially charged last October with first-degree murder in the death of Alther, but the defendant was indicted on second-degree murder, which under Virginia code is punishable by not less than five nor more than 40 years in prison.
Before his trial began, Smoot entered a plea of not guilty, claiming self-defense.
During the three day trial, the jury heard from almost two dozen witnesses, including local emergency rescue personnel responding to the scene; the medical examiner; a DNA specialist; Sheriff Connie Compton; character witnesses for both sides; and Aaron Dodson, the only eyewitness to the incident.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff walked Dodson through the events of that night minute by minute. Dodson, 20, who had worked for Smoot for a month and a half, testified that as they worked during the day of October 19, Smoot drank two six-packs of beer. That evening Dodson drove Smoot, in Smoot’s truck, to Headmasters Pub in Sperryville, where the two ate and continued to drink, Dodson said.
Sometime before 11 p.m., Dodson testified they left the pub. On the way back to Smoot’s house, he said, Dodson drove through Washington to take Fodderstack Road back to Flint Hill in an effort to avoid law enforcement.
But, said Dodson, Smoot insisted they instead turn “up the hollow” onto Harris Hollow Road. Shortly thereafter, they encountered Alther parking his own truck in the driveway of his home. Smoot got out of his truck and confronted Alther. The incident quickly escalated, the testimony continued. Dodson described Alther as carrying a large flashlight against his right shoulder, the light shining in Smoot’s eyes.
With the two men screaming at each other face to face, Alther looked like he was going for a gun in his waistband, according to the witness.
“Do you think I’m scared of your gun?” Smoot reportedly said.
Alther then swung the flashlight from his shoulder and hit Smoot’s collarbone, said Dodson. Smoot slapped Alther’s face, then, according to the testimony, Smoot also landed two punches, one an uppercut to Alther’s jaw.
“Mr. Alther fell back like a tree and hit his head on the pavement,” said Dodson. “I heard a thud. Mr. Alther’s head bounced.” Alther was reportedly unconscious.
Dodson told the court that he was frightened and started walking up Harris Hollow Road to go to a friend’s house when Smoot ordered him to come back and help with Alther. Dodson said he refused at first, but went back. He and Smoot first loaded Alther into the bed of his own truck, then moved him into the cab. Alther was breathing but unresponsive.
“I saw blood clots on the back of his head,” said Dodson.
Smoot tried several times to make a phone call. “I gotta turn myself in,” he told Dodson. But instead of immediately driving to the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office, Dodson drove Smoot home.
There, according to Sheriff Compton in her report filed the next day, Smoot called the RCSO non-emergency line to ask the department to send someone to Alther’s house to make sure he was all right.
Goff played a recording of that call for the jury. Later he also played a recording of an interview with Smoot the morning of October 20 in which he told RCSO Investigator Jim Jones and Compton a story contradicting the facts as related by Dodson.
Testifying in his own defense on the second day of the trial, Smoot grew tearful and choked up on the stand. “A man died as a result of something senseless,” he said. “I’ve been living with this for about a year. I don’t want to sound selfish, but if I hadn’t fought back, would Jay Alther be sitting here?”
On direct examination by his own attorney, Mark Williams, Smoot told a somewhat different story about the incident, making Alther out to be the aggressor.
He said that he and Dodson left the Headmasters Pub about 10:30 p.m. to go to Harris Hollow Road to check on his mother, “as I always do. Me or my brothers check on her every night,” Smoot said.
On Harris Hollow Road they encountered Alther standing in the road with the flashlight. Smoot testified he got out of the truck to see what was going on.
“Jay was in somewhat of a rage,” said Smoot, “talking loud like he was mad. He was cursing, ranting, raving. That’s when I got concerned.”
Alther, he said, accused Smoot of breaking into his house and stealing things.
“I told him to get out of the road. He didn’t. He’s walking toward me at a slow pace. He’s slapping his side,” as if he had a gun. “He came directly at me shining the light in my eyes. He hit me with the light. I swung at him high and hard to knock the light out of his hands. He kept swinging the light.”
Smoot said he blocked a blow and “made contact with Jay three times.”
“At that time I feared for my life,” Smoot told the court. Jay fell to the ground, but was making sounds. Smoot and Dodson dragged Alther out of the road. Smoot said he tried to get a signal on his phone to call the sheriff’s office, but couldn’t.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff cross-examined Smoot, taking him through the early morning questioning by Sheriff’s Investigator Jones and Sheriff Compton on October 20, just hours after the confrontation between Smoot and Alther. The jury heard a lengthy recorded portion of the conversation the day before.
Several times, under Goff’s questioning, Smoot admitted he lied to Jones and Compton.
“You told [Jones and Compton] that Jay passed by you [on Harris Hollow Road],” Goff said, “that you were hitchhiking, that an older D.C. couple stopped and picked you up, that they were driving an Audi or BMW, that the last time you saw Alther he was on the ground, that Jay was getting up when you left. Those were all lies. You said you didn’t hit him, that you were duking it out, both rolling on the ground wrestling for the flashlight. Lies.”
Smoot agreed. He said he lied to protect Dodson, who has a drug charge pending in Culpeper County.
“You were willing to lie to protect some kid who’d been [working for you] for two weeks?” asked Goff.
“I told [Dodson] I had talked to the sheriff and for him [Dodson] to keep his mouth shut,” said Alther.
Several times during the exchange, Smoot said he could not remember what happened or what he had said.
Before the jury went into deliberation, Judge Parker explained that they had three choices of verdict — not guilty, voluntary manslaughter, or second degree murder. After delivering the verdict, the jury was sent back to determine a sentence. The choices were one to 10 years in the state penitentiary, not more than 12 months in jail, a fine, or not more than 12 months in jail and a fine.
After less than 20 minutes, the jury returned to recommend a sentence of eight months.