The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Ex-officer sent to prison
The former Culpeper police officer convicted of killing 54-year-old Patricia Cook will spend three years behind bars.
Culpeper Circuit Court Judge Susan Whitlock on Thursday upheld a jury’s recommendation that 33-year-old Daniel Harmon–Wright spend 12 months in jail on each of three charges—involuntary manslaughter, shooting into an occupied vehicle and shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in death.
Those jail terms will run consecutively.
In addition, Whitlock accepted special prosecutor Jim Fisher’s recommendation and added three years of supervised probation to the sentence.
Further, the judge ordered that Harmon–Wright not run afoul of the law for 10 years after his release or risk returning to jail for all or part of the three-year probationary period.
Whitlock’s sentence was handed down immediately after Harmon–Wright read a 2-page handwritten statement in which he begged for leniency.
He also asked for forgiveness from Cook’s family, but was defiant in his assertion that the killing was unavoidable.
“No [other] solution presented itself given the circumstances,” Harmon–Wright said. “I was forced to take a human life, and I have to answer to the Lord for that.”
Cook’s brother, John Weigler, would not comment on the forgiveness issue after the sentencing.
Defense attorney Daniel Hawes, whose motion for a mistrial on the grounds of double jeopardy was denied, had asked the court to give his client a suspended sentence and limit his time behind bars to the 104 days he has already served.
“The punishment already done to him is sufficient,” Hawes said, adding that the sentencing guidelines for these crimes were meant more for carjackers and armed robbers than police officers.
Fisher didn’t agree.
“This man betrayed the trust of a great fraternity by his callous and indifferent act,” Fisher told the judge. “He treated [Patricia Cook] like a video game.”
Hawes argued that his client had not betrayed that trust, telling Judge Whitlock that police officers are trained “to use guns aggressively to uphold the law.”
Fisher retorted, “That’s the attitude that brought us to this courtroom.”
He added that a police officer should use a weapon only as a last resort.
“I was disappointed,” Hawes said after the sentencing.
He would not speculate on a possible appeal.
Fisher said he was “satisfied that the judge did the right thing” and that he was pleased at the transparency of the case from start to finish.
“Eleven citizens on the grand jury decided he had committed a crime as did the 12 citizens who sat on the jury,” Fisher said. “Twenty-three citizens have weighed in on this matter and decided that it was felonious.”
While Whitlock denied the double jeopardy argument, she approved a second motion that asked that the court appoint Hawes as Harmon–Wright’s attorney for any further legal action.
Harmon–Wright, who still faces a $3.2 million wrongful death civil suit, told the court he was indigent with no tangible assets and no means of support.
Harmon–Wright shot Cook in the head after he claimed she trapped his hand in her Jeep window following an incident at the Epiphany Catholic School annex parking lot on East Street on the morning of Feb. 9, 2012.
He then followed the vehicle into the street and fired five more times as the wounded Cook slowly drove away. One of the shots struck her in the back of the head while another severed her spine and pierced her heart.
Cook was not armed or breaking any laws when Harmon–Wright responded to a suspicious person report. A school administrator testified during the trial that the woman, for whatever reason, was just sitting in her car in the parking lot.
That witness also testified that Harmon–Wright’s hand was never trapped but that when Cook pulled away, the officer jumped on the running board and fired point-blank through the glass.
Harmon–Wright, an Iraq War veteran, had worked for the Culpeper police department for five years when the shooting occurred.
Former police Chief Dan Boring, who hired the convicted officer, was in the gallery during the sentencing.