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Man to serve 12 years for shooting woman

A Caroline County who shot a woman in the back after she spat on him was ordered Thursday to serve 12 years in prison.

Claudell Fells Jr.

Claudell Fells Jr. , 21, of Ruther Glen was convicted in August of attempted second-degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Judge Joseph J. Ellis sentenced Fells to 35 years with all but nine years suspended on the attempted murder charge, 35 years with all of that time suspended on the aggravated malicious wounding charge and a mandatory three years for the firearms charge.

Ellis’ sentence is on the high end of the recommended state sentencing guidelines.

“I want to apologize and accept full responsibility for my actions, ” Fells told the judge before hearing his sentence. “Whatever time you give me, I’m going to dedicate it to getting my head straight.”

Several family members and friends testified on Fells’ behalf saying he had always been “a good, respectable boy.” He had been an athlete at Caroline High School, always kept a job and had a minor criminal record for possession of marijuana and alcohol as a juvenile.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer argued that Fells somehow fell off track and was a serious felony waiting to happen.

“He pointed a gun at a woman in front of her child and tried to kill her,” Spencer said to Ellis while asking for a 12-year sentence. “He may have been a good kid, but that has changed. But for the grace of God, we would have been here for a murder trial. Send a message that if you shoot someone you will go to prison.”

Defense Attorney James Moloney argued that that the message has already been received.

“A 12-year sentence is not necessary to understand what happened that day is unexcusable,” Maloney said. “I’m not suggesting that this young lady deserved to have this happen to her, but we have to do the equation and look at how someone so quiet and mild-mannered goes to shooting someone.”

According to testimony during the bench trial, the victim–a 25-year-old woman from Ruther Glen–her then-boyfriend and their sleeping 4-year-old daughter had stopped to pump gas on Sept. 1, 2010 at what was then a Chevron gas station along Rogers Clark Boulevard in the Carmel Church area.

Several witnesses gave various details, but all agreed that a verbal confrontation occurred between the boyfriend and two passengers in a red Grand Marquis that had pulled up to a neighboring pump.

Fells testified that the female victim, whom he did not know personally, got out of her van, “came up to me and spit in my face. She was cursing at me.”

Fell’s cousin, Austin Morris, whose charges were dropped in this case, stated that the spit landed in Fells’ eye and “was enough to see it drip and run down his face.”

In an hourlong recorded police interview, Fells said he snapped because it was rumored that the woman was HIV-positive. The woman testified that she has never been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.

After the shooting, Fells and Morris fled the scene on foot. The driver of the car they were in stayed on the scene. The two men were found a few hours later after a manhunt involving Caroline deputies, Spotsylvania County canine units and the Virginia State Police. The gun was never recovered.

The woman said in court Thursday that the shooting has changed her whole life. She said she wakes up in cold sweats most nights from dreams of Fells pointing the gun at her.

“I pray that God gives you the strength and mercy to realize what you have done to me and how I have to suffer until its time for me to leave this earth,” she told Fells.

The bullet from the semi-automatic weapon destroyed part of her colon and has caused many complications involving her digestive system.

After the shooting, she was flown to VCU Medical Center, where she stayed for five days. She then had to have part of her small intestine removed at Mary Washington Hospital last February after microscopic holes caused her bowels to leak into her abdomen, causing infection.

She said she can’t sit or stand for long periods of time and doctors told her she can’t lift more than 20 pounds The toughest part about that, she said was not being able to pick up or play with her now 5-year-old daughter.

“If God can forgive killers, rapists, pedophiles and such more in this world then why can’t I forgive you for what you did to me,” she said to him. “It’s hard for me to say but I truly forgive you for what you have done.”

Fells told the young woman that he had been praying for her, her family and for her forgiveness.

“I appreciate your forgiveness,” he told her. “I know I shouldn’t have had a gun.”