The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Mistrial possible in ex-officer’s conviction
UPDATE: A judge will rule Friday on whether to declare a mistrial in the case of a former Culpeper police officer convicted of killing an unarmed woman.
The attorney for Daniel Harmon–Wright asked for the mistrial after court officials discovered two dictionaries and a thesaurus in the jury room after the panel found the ex-offer guilty of manslaughter in the Feb. 9 shooting death of Patricia Cook.
Judge Susan Whitlock questioned each juror individually this afternoon. They told her the only words they looked up were malicious and malice. They said the jury forewoman brought the dictionary in because the jurors didn’t understand the judge’s instructions on those terms.
Some jurors in the murder trial said they voted for the lesser charge of manslaughter after reading those definitions.
Whitlock took the mistrial motion under advisement and said she would render a decision Friday morning.
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
After more than eight hours of deliberation, a Culpeper jury found 33-year-old Daniel Harmon–Wright guilty of voluntary manslaughter and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle (involuntary manslaughter) that resulted in the death of Patricia Ann Cook almost one year ago.
The former Culpeper town policeman was also found guilty of maliciously shooting into an occupied vehicle, but innocent on the charge of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.
The eight-woman, four-man jury will reconvene Wednesday at 1 p.m. to begin the sentencing phase of the seven-day trial.
Harmon–Wright, who shot 54-year-old Cook four times during a suspicious persons incident at the Epiphany School parking lot on North East Street last Feb. 9, faces a maximum of 25 years in prison on the three felony convictions.
“The citizens of this community have spoken,” special prosecutor Jim Fisher said during a press conference. “I wanted this case to be transparent and citizen-based and it was.”
Fisher mentioned the special investigative grand jury that he requested last April—the 11-person group that indicted Harmon–Wright—and the 12 citizens that found him guilty Tuesday.
While he said he thought that it was “important that the court send a message,” Fisher made it clear that Harmon–Wright’s conviction was not a condemnation of Culpeper’s police force.
“This was a unique situation,” he said. “[Harmon–Wright] stepped out of line. But we need to reinforce the message that this was wrong.”
The special prosecutor (who is Fauquier County’s commonwealth’s attorney) said he was not disappointed that Harmon–Wright was not found guilty of first- or second-degree murder, both options open to the jury.
“I knew that reasonable minds could differ [as to the measure of his guilt],” Fisher added.
Cook’s brother, John Weigler, who came from New Jersey for the entire trial, said that “we are pleased with the verdict.”
When asked if he thought that justice had been served he replied, “Yes. It vindicates [Pat].”
Weigler, who carried a bible with him during most of the trial, said that he felt for Harmon–Wright’s wife and his 16-month-old son.
But he added, “What happened that day should not have happened. My sister shouldn’t have been shot that day.”
Weigler, who is the plaintiff in a pending wrongful death suit against Harmon–Wright, said that he had been advised not to comment further.
He did add, however, that “some pretty horrible things” were said during the trial, “a lot of words that were very detestable.”
Daniel Hawes, Harmon–Wright’s attorney, refused comment after his client, whose bond was revoked, was taken away to jail.
Culpeper police Chief Chris Jenkins, who, while a captain five years ago, reportedly advised against hiring Harmon–Wright, said, “This was a tragedy and a first for our community and this agency. We are all saddened by this event. We hurt, too.”
Jenkins added, “The outcome of the trial does not change our mission. We are still devoted to providing the best possible services to our community and in the best way possible.”
Harmon–Wright is the first Culpeper policeman ever convicted for a killing while on duty.
In 1936, Hugh Marvlin “Billy” Hawkins was tried for the murder of Will Elliott, but was acquitted.
Harmon–Wright showed little emotion when the verdicts were read.
One juror wiped tears from her eyes as the jury was being polled.
The jury, which got the case about 2:30 Monday afternoon, was an hour late resuming deliberations Tuesday when the husband of one of the jurors was hurt in an early morning work accident.
The woman, however, arrived just before 10 a.m and deliberations resumed shortly afterward.
When asked how tough a sentence he would ask the jury to recommend during Wednesday’s deliberations, Fisher said he was not sure but that he would “think it over tonight.”
He added, however, that he expected his recommendation to be on the high side.
Both sides may put on witnesses Wednesday prior to the jury’s sentence deliberations.
The jury can only recommend a sentence; Judge Susan Whitlock will pass sentence officially at some later date.
Under Virginia law she may reduce the jury’s recommendation but cannot exceed it.