The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Jury wants 36 months in jail for ex-officer
BY KATIE THISDELL
A former Culpeper police officer could serve 36 months in jail after fatally shooting a woman sitting in her car last year.
After three hours of deliberations Friday afternoon, the jury recommended the sentence—among the lowest of the possible options that Daniel Harmon–Wright faced for the death of Patrica Cook.
Harmon–Wright faced up to 25 years in prison after being convicted of three felonies earlier in the week in Culpeper Circuit Court, including voluntary manslaughter. The officer shot the 54-year-old Cook four times after responding to a call about a suspicious person in a school parking lot last Feb. 9.
Harmon–Wright testified that he would do the same thing again if he had to.
“With the circumstances as they were, I just don’t see any way out of what I did,” Harmon–Wright said.
Defense Attorney Daniel Hawes left the door open for an appeal, saying he’d review transcripts before making that decision.
“I still don’t think he’s guilty of a crime,” Hawes told reporters outside the courthouse after the jury recommended the sentence. “I was hoping for an acquittal.”
In a case that shook the town, where there had never been a fatal shooting by a police officer, Harmon–Wright was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and two lesser felonies.
After arguing in court for a tough sentence for the former police officer, special prosecutor Jim Fisher said he was satisfied with the outcome.
“But it’s a sad day,” he said. “No one walks away from a case like this a winner. A woman lost her life, and a police officer lost his career.”
Harmon–Wright will be formally sentenced April 10. Judge Susan Whitlock may reduce the recommended punishment, but not increase it.
Before the jury deliberated on the sentencing, she denied an appeal for a mistrial. After the 12 jurors had returned the verdict Tuesday, three reference books were found in the jury room, bookmarked at the word “malice.”
She said though there was jury misconduct, since directions were not explicitly followed, Harmon–Wright’s case was not harmed. Had be been found guilty of murder, that would have indicated he had acted with malice.
The 10-day case wrapped up with defense attorney Hawes presenting testimony about his client’s character and the effect of the shooting incident.
Daniel Harmon–Wright, who earlier said he shot the woman in self-defense, told the court that after serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq, he felt called to continue to serve his country. His family moved to Culpeper so he could join the police force.
“I wanted to find a way to serve the community in a way that wouldn’t be so distant,” he said.
But after that shooting, which he described as “absolutely horrible,” he said he’d never want to be in law enforcement again.
Cook, whose husband died in the past year, is often on his mind, he said, but he’d like to be able to move on.
“This is never going to go away for me, never,” Harmon–Wright said.
His wife, Denise Wright, has since moved back to California with the couple’s 17-month-old son.
In an emotional testimony, she told the courtroom that her family has lost everything—savings, life insurance, financial livelihoods.
She is devastated to know her husband “will never be able to serve his country again. It’s what he always wanted to do.”
Also called to testify was Brendan King, who served alongside the defendant in Iraq.
He said there were times during combat in 2003 that the two of them could have harmed Iraqi prisoners without anyone knowing, like others have done.
“Dan was not one of them,” King said.
Special prosecutor Fisher, the Fauquier County’s commonwealth’s attorney, asked to present a document to jurors that he said would rebut claims about Harmon–Wright’s service record.
The judge denied the request.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975