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Free Lance-Star reporter Robyn Sidersky covers Caroline County government and schools. You can reach her at 540/374-5413 or rsidersky@freelancestar.com. You can follow coverage on Facebook or Twitter as well.

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Sentence reduced in 1992 murder case

A man convicted of a 1992 murder in Caroline County had his sentence reduced this week, but he will remain behind bars.

A Caroline jury sentenced Jerome "Bird" Rawls, now 54, to a total of 37 years in prison in 1996 on four charges related to the robbery and killing of 45-year-old Thomas W. Robinson in 1992.

He was sentenced to 25 years for second-degree murder, two years for using a firearm in commission of a felony and five years each on convictions of conspiracy and attempted robbery.

Rawls’ sentence was reduced to 12 ½ years on the murder charge in an agreement made in Caroline Circuit Court on Wednesday.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer said the agreement saved the county from going through an expensive jury trial and was the right thing to do.

Spencer cited five factors that went into the decision, which included that Rawls was an accomplice, not the shooter; he has rehabilitated himself and is a model inmate; the victim’s family agreed to the new sentence; the reduced sentenced would result in only a two to three year difference from when he would have been released on parole; and the fact that when Rawls’ is released from the Virginia Department of Corrections, he has to serve federal time in South Carolina for a separate robbery.

The new sentencing was a result of a Virginia Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court ruled in September that Rawls needed to be retried on punishment because the jury who heard the case in 1996 was not instructed properly on the maximum sentencing Rawls could receive for second-degree murder.

That’s because of a change in the state code.

Between the time Robinson was killed in 1992 and Rawls was sentenced in 1996, the Virginia General Assembly toughened sentencing in murder cases.

Previously, the maximum punishment for second-degree murder was 20 years, but it was increased to 40 years in 1993.

Under Virginia law, Rawls should have been sentenced based on the guidelines in place when the murder occurred, not when the case was tried. Therefore, the jury should have been told that Rawls faced a maximum of 20 years for second-degree murder instead of 40.

The sentences on Rawls’ other convictions will stand.

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Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/carolinecrossroads/2010/02/25/sentence-reduced-in-1992-murder-case/