The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Trial set for ex-Culpeper officer charged with murder
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
The trial for a former Culpeper police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed woman has been scheduled for Jan. 22.
Just where that trial will be held has yet to be determined.
Judge Susan Whitlock did not rule Tuesday on defense attorney Daniel Hawes’ motion for a change of venue in the high-profile case.
Daniel Harmon–Wright shot and killed Patricia Cook on the morning of Feb. 9 after he confronted her in the Epiphany Catholic School parking lot. Prosecutors said the five-year veteran of the town force fired seven shots in all, two point-blank at Cook through the driver-side window glass of her Jeep Wrangler and five more as she drove away.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Hawes presented the court with an inch-thick exhibit of media reports about the fatal shooting, which he said were “intentionally designed to poison the jury pool.”
He added that “it is not possible to find a jury in the entire area” that hasn’t been exposed to the extensive newspaper, radio and TV coverage surrounding the case, and asked the judge to have the trial moved to Rustburg in Campbell County, near Lynchburg. Hawes said any jury selected there “couldn’t care less.”
Hawes told the judge that people in the Culpeper area are prejudiced because they have complained about “corruption” that exists within the town police department and the “rogue cop” charged in the death of the 54-year-old Cook. He added that there are “people in the law enforcement community who are putting out false rumors” about Harmon–Wright.
The defense attorney was especially hard on the Culpeper Police Department, which fired Harmon–Wright after he was indicted on the murder charge.
“There are people in the Culpeper Police Department who have a problem,” he said. “This man is not one of them.”
Fauquier County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Russell Rabb, sitting in for special prosecutor Jim Fisher, opposed the motion to move the trial.
“This is a Culpeper crime,” he said, adding that of 45,000 people in the county there had to be some who were not influenced by the coverage of the case.
“The blogs should not be given high consideration,” he added.
Although she did not rule, Whitlock said it was not appropriate to grant a change of venue based solely on publicity surrounding a case.
Hawes also argued that the charges of malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death were redundant and amounted to double jeopardy. Whitlock did not immediately rule on the double-jeopardy question, but said the prosecution should have filed the bill of particulars before Harmon–Wright entered his not-guilty plea in early June.
Whitlock did grant a defense motion to seal some of Harmon–Wright’s military records for his protection.
Rabb asked that three days be set aside for a jury trial, but Hawes requested three weeks. Whitlock set aside 10 days.