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Master carpenter inmate builds a case for freedom

Rappahannock County attorney Frank Reynolds said he hasn’t seen anything like it in his more than four decades of practicing law.

Culpeper County Circuit Judge Susan Whitlock agreed as she issued a ruling making Lawrence “Junior” Wood a free man.

“It is a marvel to me that [Wood] has been in jail for 7 years,” Whitlock said.

Almost a decade ago, Wood was sentenced in six counties—Culpeper, Madison, Rappahannock, Fauquier, Orange and Spotsylvania—on charges ranging from obtaining money by false pretenses to forgery.

Most of the Madison County native’s sentences were for one or two years, but since none of the judges involved stipulated that they were to run concurrently, together they added up to a lot of time in the penitentiary.

The strange thing is that Wood never made it to the penitentiary. Instead, he has spent the past 7 years in the Rappahannock County jail, which was the source of Whitlock’s disbelief.

“I’ve talked to the Department of Corrections and they say they always pick up inmates within 30 to 60 days,” Whitlock said.

For whatever reason, the DOC didn’t pick up Wood, possibly because he is a master carpenter and Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Smith found use for him.

“He practically built the addition onto the Rappahannock jail,” said Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins, who was a captain in the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office at the time the work was done.

Jenkins said that Wood was involved in other Rappahannock County civic projects and “saved the county tens of thousands of dollars.”

Then, in 2010, Sheriff Smith, following an appeal from Culpeper County officials, loaned Wood to Culpeper. He was responsible for framing the concession stand at the Culpeper Sports Complex, saving the county thousands of dollars.

Given Wood’s contributions to Rappahannock and Culpeper counties, several officials persuaded Reynolds to petition the several courts to allow his sentences to run concurrently instead of consecutively.

All have done so, Culpeper being the last.

“The judge at Spotsylvania said it was time for Wood to make restitution to the victim there, who is now 86,” Reynolds told Judge Whitlock.

Culpeper County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Angela Catlett argued against Wood’s release on time served, saying that such a ruling would set a precedent “and have a chilling effect on the commonwealth attorney’s office.” Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Frederick said one reason her office opposed the early release was the number of charges against Wood, who had faced 36 different counts in the various jurisdictions.

But Whitlock ruled that Wood could be released, saying she was impressed by his jail record and the fact that he worked on jobs without any supervision most of the time.

Reynolds said that while most of the sentences were within state guidelines, some (Wood got 10 years in Spotsylvania, with eight years suspended) were greater than those sought in plea agreements.

And, like Whitlock, he marveled at the support his client had received in recent months.

“In my 42 years of practicing law I have never seen this kind of support or this kind of a record,” Reynolds said.

Wood, tan from working outside at his chosen trade, had little to say as he was returned to Rappahannock County, where he will likely be released in a few days.

Wood must still make restitution to his victims, but Reynolds said that his client will be employed again within weeks of his release.

The ironic part of this strange case is that had Wood been picked up by the Department of Corrections, local judges would have lost jurisdiction in the case.

But since the DOC didn’t, Wood will soon be a free man. The remainder of his sentence in Spotsylvania, however, will still be there should other criminal violations arise.

Donnie Johnston: