The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Former officer loses appeal in fatal Culpeper shooting
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON / THE FREE LANCE–STAR
The Virginia Court of Appeals on Thursday denied the appeal of Daniel Harmon-Wright, the former Culpeper police officer convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the 2012 shooting death of an unarmed woman.
Harmon–Wright’s attorney, Daniel Hawes, had challenged the conviction on grounds of double jeopardy and insufficient evidence. Hawes argued that voluntary manslaughter and shooting into an occupied vehicle—the charges he was convicted of in Patricia Ann Cook’s death—were essentially the same. The appeals court didn’t agree.
“Viewing the offenses in their own terms, it cannot be any clearer that the two offenses have distinct elements of proof,” the court wrote in its order. “Voluntary manslaughter requires that the killing be intentional. The shooting into an occupied vehicle offense does not require proof of any specific intent.
“Shooting into an occupied vehicle simply requires proof that the defendant fired a weapon into an occupied car,” the court continued, noting that evidence showed Harmon–Wright fired seven shots into Cook’s vehicle.
“He shot into the car through the driver’s door window while the victim remained in a parking lot and shot into the car from behind as the victim attempted to flee the scene.”
Harmon–Wright is serving a three-year sentence for fatally shooting Cook on Feb. 9, 2012, after he responded to a call about a suspicious -person in a preschool parking lot. He claimed Cook ignored his directions and drove away, rolling up her car window on his arm and dragging him.
But witnesses testified that they never saw the officer’s arm trapped in the window.
The court cited that testimony in agreeing there was ample evidence to convict the 33-year-old former policeman.
“Ann Schuyler, a school employee, testified that she did not see appellant’s arm or hand trapped inside the vehicle,” the court said. “She noted that the vehicle made a brief stop and appellant ran to catch up to it.
“Kristopher Buchele was working at an apartment next to the school at the time of the incident. He observed appellant running next to the vehicle, but never saw appellant’s arm trapped in the window.”
It was determined that the 54-year-old Cook had committed no crime and was merely sitting in her car in the Epiphany School parking lot when Harmon–Wright confronted her.
“I am pleased that our legal analysis on issues such as the claim of double jeopardy and sufficiency of the evidence was deemed to be correct and without error,” special prosecutor Jim Fisher said.
“Further appeals are possible, but in light of this decision, it appears that the defendant would have an even more difficult time persuading other appellate courts as to his points of view.”