I Survived, Part VI of X: Let Justice Be Done

by David E. Shellenberger on December 15, 2017

“[F]or whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
     — Galatians 6:7

I had my last day of the coaching training in Boston on Sunday, July 23rd. I got home that night about 9:00 p.m., happy to be with the cats. I had to leave the next afternoon for the trip to Charlottesville to speak at the sentencing hearings on Tuesday. I finalized my statement and printed out copies.

The trip entailed flying from Hartford to Philadelphia and then taking a separate flight to Charlottesville. The flight from Hartford was scheduled to depart at 6:00 p.m. In theory, the drive should take less than an hour and a half. I left at 2:30 p.m., allowing plenty of time. Plenty was not enough.

Route 84 is a car trap, a monument to the need for a free market in infrastructure. I got trapped. There apparently was an accident. The traffic crawled, stopped, and started as I approached Hartford.

It looked like I was not going to be able to catch the plane. I used my cell phone to try to research later flights, but it was not clear that there would be any that would get me to Charlottesville on time.

I had to be at the courthouse at 9:30 a.m. to meet with the AUSAs and the Victim/Witness Specialist. I planned to drive down if necessary, a dreary prospect. The trip would take over eight hours, and I was exhausted from the three days of training and the three nights of getting only four hours of sleep at the hotel. I do not sleep well away from home; I miss the cats and worry about them.

Finally, the highway opened up. I made it to Hartford and headed north on Route 91 toward the airport. The situation still looked desperate. The signs for parking were ambiguous. Airports too reflect the need for a free market in infrastructure.

I guessed which parking garage was closest to the terminal, and was lucky. I parked and hurried to the security screening area. (Yes, free the whole aviation market, including security.) It was about 5:45 p.m., and I still thought I would miss the flight.

There was no line, and I got through the TSA process quickly, without the full menu of nonsense passengers can face. The gate was nearby. Boarding had just begun.

I was elated as we took off, relieved I was flying, not driving.

Philadelphia

We arrived in Philadelphia on time. The boarding for the 8:35 p.m. flight to Charlottesville began early, about 7:40 p.m. The plan was to take off before a storm reached the area.

Well, the plane did not take off in time. We sat on the runway for an hour or so as the storm passed. The pilot then announced that we would wait in line for the departure. I chatted with the passenger next to me, a nurse practitioner who lived and worked in central Virginia. I explained the reason for my travel.

Another hour or so passed. The flight attendants advised that it was too late to arrive before the airport closed at 10:00 p.m., so the flight was canceled.

The plane taxied to a gate. The flight attendants explained that the airline agent had gone to the wrong gate. We waited and eventually got off the craft, the aluminum time thief.

The debacle continued, as perhaps a hundred of us waited in line to speak to the airline staff. The airline did not offer buses or vans to get us to our destination.

After half an hour, the staff handed out cards with a number we could contact to make new arrangements. I called, explaining the need to arrive in Charlottesville in time for the meeting. An agent tried to be helpful, but after twenty minutes, she determined there were no flights on any airline that would get me there on time. (Note to airline industry: Embrace artificial intelligence.)

By now, it was about 11:00 p.m. The nurse practitioner and I had discussed the idea of taking a limousine down to Charlottesville. But it was so late that she decided to stay overnight at a hotel and fly out in the morning, canceling her appointments for the day.

However, she encouraged me: “You have come this far.” Like the nursing assistant who called the police after the crime, she was an angel. I would complete the journey.

Long Ride, Short Sleep

I was too tired to drive all night in an unfamiliar rental car, so I did not consider that option. I quickly researched limousine services in the area, made a call, negotiated a price, and waited for the ride.

The driver arrived about midnight. The vehicle was suitable for the trip — a late-model Lincoln Navigator, a large, safe, and comfortable SUV.

The driver was an immigrant from Morocco who worked the night shift. I sat up front to keep him company and make sure he stayed awake. Traffic would be light at the late hour, and the trip would take about four and a half hours.

I explained my interest in international liberty and my support for immigration. I enjoyed learning more about Morocco and hearing about the man’s life here, including his family. I told him about the crime and the hearings I was attending, and he related the terrible experiences his fellow drivers had had with crime in Philadelphia.

We arrived at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville at 4:30 a.m. I thanked the driver and wished him a safe trip home. He was going to take a nap and then head back later in the morning.

I had called the hotel and explained I would be arriving much later than planned. The person at the front desk was the gentleman with whom I had spoken, so he knew it was I when I walked in. This was my first time at the hotel; I liked it, but now my stay, with my late arrival, would be short.

I unpacked, ordered room service, and devoured a sandwich. I completed the form to order room service for breakfast, left it on the outside doorknob, and went to bed about 5:00 a.m.

Two hours later, I had breakfast, checked notifications on social media, read a newspaper or two online, put on my suit and tie, and proceeded with my briefcase to the courthouse just up the street. Adrenaline and motivation sometimes have to substitute for sleep.

Court

The Assistant U.S. Attorney who had presented my testimony before the grand jury happened to be walking by as I entered the courthouse. We happily greeted one another, and he brought me to a conference room. Others soon joined us: the other AUSA whom I had met and with whom I also had been in regular contact; the Victim/Witness Specialist; and the two senior detectives from the county police department whom I had last seen on the day I had testified.

I was delighted to see everyone. We discussed the procedure for the hearing, and I gave everyone copies of the statement I would read.

Shortly before 10:00 a.m., we entered the courtroom. Slide 9 of the Department of Justice’s Courtroom Image Gallery represents the court as I remember it.:

I met the Acting U.S. Attorney and a senior FBI Special Agent and thanked them both. I sat in the right front row of the gallery with the Victim/Witness Specialist. The two AUSAs took their place at the counsel table in front of us. The attorneys for the three defendants sat at the counsel table on the other side of the courtroom.

Marshals separately escorted the three defendants from the door at the front of the courtroom, on the left. The defendants were in jail garb and shackles. They looked at me. I gave each a cold, blank stare: contempt.

I liked the judge. He is several years older than I am, is intelligent, experienced, and wise, and has the perfect temperament for a judge.

My Statement

I was there to tell my story, to seek justice, to thank the authorities for their work. And to honor other victims, those who have survived, the families who suffer with them, and those who have not survived, the families who mourn them.

The judge initiated the proceeding, and one of the AUSAs nodded for me to go through the gate and take my position at the lectern.

Your honor, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today.

I am grateful for the work of the authorities in bringing the defendants to justice:

Albemarle County Police Department and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office
Greene County Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office
Virginia State Police
U.S. Marshals Service
Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia

My direct contact has been with the detectives and other police officers of Albemarle
County and the personnel of the U.S. Attorney’s office. I appreciate the compassion and concern that everyone has shown me.

Your honor, the crimes involving me were crimes of violence and hatred.

The defendants:
• Smashed a glass door to break into my home
• Robbed me at gunpoint
• Repeatedly threatened to murder me
• Kicked a hole in a wall
• Knocked me unconscious
• Struck me with a chair when I regained consciousness
• Abducted me in my car
• Forced me to attempt to withdraw funds from a bank using my ATM card
• Abducted another person who happened to be at the bank
• Rammed my car into me at the bank
• And forced the other abductee and me to remain in my car during their robbery of a store

One defendant stated, during the robbery of the store, ‘You whites deserve this.’ He also said, ‘If my fingerprints weren’t on the bullets, I’d kill you both.’

I have responded to the incident by sharing information with others on how to enhance their security. I also have been publicly calling attention to the need to incarcerate violent criminals to prevent them from committing further crimes.

I invite the community of central Virginia to consider whether lessons can be learned from the fact that Defendant Jones received a suspended sentence and probation for a felony, through the state system, two months before the series of crimes for which he has pleaded guilty.

I have not let the crime deter me from pursuing my missions or my goals. But I am human, and my life, like the lives of other victims of violent crime, has been forever changed. Every day, I remember the evil that was committed. And my friends and family have to endure the knowledge of what I experienced.

The crime has not ruined my life, but it has changed my life. I will never be the same.

I survived, but a different victim could have died. I hope that the defendants are never again allowed to prey on others.

Thank you, your honor.

The judge paused for about fifteen seconds. He seemed to have been affected by what I said.

He thanked me for speaking, observed that it is important for courts to hear from victims, and assured me that he would consider my statement in imposing the sentences. I thanked him again and returned to my seat in the gallery.

Sentencing

The Marshalls escorted two of the defendants out of the courtroom, through the door by which they had entered, leaving Defendant Jones. There would now be separate hearings for each of the three defendants.

Courts conduct sentencing hearings in accordance with Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Prosecutors and defense attorneys make their arguments to the court. The judge provides an opportunity for the defendant to speak and then pronounces the sentence.

The Department of Justice explains sentencing as follows:

The judge receives guidance and assistance from several sources in order to sentence a defendant. Congress has established minimum and maximum punishments for many crimes which the judge uses to craft a sentence. The United States Sentencing Commissions has produced a set of sentencing guidelines that recommend certain punishments for certain crimes while considering various factors. Further, the judge will look at a presentence report and consider statements from the victims as well as the defendant and lawyers.

The judge may consider a variety of aggravating or mitigating factors. These include whether the defendant has committed the same crime before, whether the defendant has expressed regret for the crime, and the nature of the crime itself.

As 18 U.S. Code § 3553, Imposition of a sentence provides, sentencing factors include “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant” and the need to punish the offender, deter criminal conduct, and protect the public. As discussed in Part V, all three of the defendants had pleaded guilty to firearms violations, which carry mandatory sentences.

Jones

Jones had pleaded guilty to two firearm charges. He had admitted participating in the crimes involving me plus three of the prior robberies in the spree.

Subsection (e) of the statute linked in the paragraph above authorizes courts “to impose a sentence below a level established by statute as a minimum sentence so as to reflect a defendant’s substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense.”

Here is an excerpt from a news report on the hearings. The report covers the sentencing of the three defendants involved in the crimes against me as well as a fourth defendant, Wilson, who had pleaded guilty in connection with one of the prior robberies.

Four sentenced in string of armed robberies in Albemarle and Greene

Prosecutors put forward a substantial assistance motion, asking the court to impose a sentence shorter than that recommended by the sentencing guidelines.

Despite Jones’ help, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Huber said that during the home invasion Jones brandished a knife and a firearm at the victim[], and reportedly said, ‘If my fingerprints weren’t on these bullets, I’d kill you both.’

‘Mr. Jones terrorized a number of victims in Central Virginia,’ said Huber, who pushed for a substantial sentence.

The judge sentenced Jones to 18 years and nine months in prison. The sentence also included, for Jones and the other two defendants, five years of supervised release plus payment of restitution. (Probation is a sentence instead of incarceration; supervised release follows incarceration.)

Johnson

Johnson had pleaded guilty to firearm and carjacking charges in the crimes involving me. He smirked as three marshals led him into the courtroom.

The AUSAs, in their argument concerning the sentencing, noted that Johnson had absconded from a juvenile detention facility at the time of the crime. (He had reached the age of majority, 18, by the date of the crime.) The AUSAs also pointed out that, as a juvenile, he had threatened an off-duty police officer with a gun.

The judge sentenced Johnson to 10 years and six months in prison. Johnson apparently disagreed with the sentence.

He yelled at the judge and lurched forward — toward the exit, the people with me later said. The marshals tugged him back and took him out of the courtroom. For the next couple of minutes, there was a loud commotion behind the closed door. Johnson was yelling, and there was banging — apparently from Johnson struggling with the marshals.

The incident dramatized the peril I was in when all three of the criminals — armed — were in my home, the danger that continued when the thugs abducted me and then the other victim. It reinforced what I had long realized, that we were both fortunate to be alive.

For the first time after the crime, my heart raced, and my palms sweated. I did not realize what had happened to me until the next day.

There was a brief break before the next hearing. I asked for more security, not knowing who might be sitting in the gallery, and wanting to deter any attack from behind.

One of the detectives sat on my left. I asked whether he was armed. Affirmative. Good.

Tyree

Tyree had pleaded guilty to two firearms charges and had admitted participating in the crimes involving me plus four of the prior robberies.

The judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

……..

The court adjourned. The AUSAs, the Victim/Witness Specialist, the detectives, and I returned to the conference room. I complimented the attorneys on their excellent work at the hearing, which followed their excellent work bringing the cases to the sentencing stage.

I asked for security for my walk back to the hotel, not knowing who might be in the area. The two detectives kindly provided this, and the Victim/Witness Specialist accompanied us.

Media Conference

The management of the hotel had authorized me to check out late. I appreciated the courtesy. The U.S. Attorney’s office had scheduled a media conference on the cases for 3:00 p.m. and I wanted to attend.

The sentencing hearing for Wilson was scheduled for the early afternoon. There was no need for me attend this, so I worked in my room until shortly before the conference.

I checked out, checked my luggage, and walked back to the courthouse. The conference would be held outside the entrance to the building. I met the Victim/Witness Specialist there. Television crews were setting up, and reporters were speaking with the Public Affairs Specialist of the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The speakers were Acting U.S. Attorney Rick A. Mountcastle, AUSAs Ronald M. Huber and Christopher Kavanaugh, and Adam S. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division. Those also present included the Chief of Police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Albemarle County, and the Sheriff of Greene County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S. Attorney’s office’s media release includes Mr. Mountcastle’s statement, excerpted here:

The Albemarle County Police Department, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked together to identify and quickly apprehend these violent criminals before they could do more violence to our citizens. The Albemarle and Greene County offices of the Commonwealth’s Attorney worked together with our office to decide to bring this case in Federal court and our Assistant United States Attorneys ensured that these defendants received appropriate sentences under federal law so that they no longer present a danger to our citizens.

The release also includes the statement by Special Agent Lee (paragraphing added):

The facts of this case are egregious. These violent criminals – who terrorized our central Virginia communities with handguns, sawed-off shotguns, and even an assault rifle– thankfully, no longer pose a threat. The FBI is committed to the Department of Justice’s renewed emphasis on removing violent criminals like these from our streets.

I want to thank our colleagues at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia for their expert prosecution of this case and I want to thank our outstanding partners at the Albemarle County Police Department and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office for their collaboration. I’ve said this in similar FBI cases over the past year; Virginia is not a safe place for criminals to operate and victimize our citizens. We are mobilized against you and we will put you in prison for a long, long time.

The article by the local CBS affiliate, “Armed robbery sentences being handed down in Charlottesville,” includes a video report from outside the courthouse. The report reviews the sentences and includes excerpts from the conference.

At 1:58, Mr. Mountcastle responds to a question regarding the youth of the criminals. The article linked above relative to Jones includes his response:

Acting U.S. Attorney Rick A. Mountcastle called the circumstances a tragedy.

‘It is also my belief that had the great law enforcement work not solved this case when it did, further violence would have been done,’ Mountcastle said. ‘In the end, our responsibilities — our jobs — are to protect the public and to ensure that the public continues to be protected.’

I liked the no-nonsense messages of Mr. Mountcastle and Special Agent Lee. AUSAs Huber and Kavanaugh also did an excellent job responding to questions.

Beginning at 1:53 and 2:28, you will see me, from behind, meeting officials I had not previously met and thanking them for their work. Everyone was gracious and appreciative that I had spoken in court.

I thanked everyone again, said goodbye, and walked back to the hotel. It was a good day for the good guys.

Return Home

I had planned to see my friends in my former neighborhood, the nice couple. I called them and let them know the media conference was over, and I was on my way. I got a ride with Lyft.

It was wonderful to see them. I told them about the trip down, the hearings, and the conference, and gave them a copy of my statement; they updated me on their lives. We only had a little time to chat; my return flight was at 5:45 p.m. I changed out of my suit, and the gentleman drove me to the airport. I look forward to seeing them again.

There was not enough time to see Jonathan and his family on this trip, but I had seen him and several members of his family earlier in the summer. Next time.

The flight left on time. The first leg of the trip was to Charlotte, where I had a late lunch and walked around during the three-hour layover. We departed on time and arrived at midnight.

I got home about 2:00 a.m. The cats and I were happy to see each other. I fed them, had dinner, and unwound.

The cats wanted me to play with them, as I do most nights to give them exercise. But it was time to sleep.

……..

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Part VII

Previous post:

Next post: