A former town policeman is facing a maximum sentence of three years in connection with the shooting death of an unarmed motorist. Daniel Harmon-Wright, who was earlier convicted of voluntary manslaughter and two other felony counts, could have gotten up to 25 years in prison.
The judge will review the jury's sentence at a hearing on April 10th. In Virginia, judges may reduce sentences imposed by juries, but not increase them.
Special prosecutor James Fisher asked the panel to impose a substantial sentence, telling the jury, "He lost it and [he] slaughtered this woman."
54-year-old Patricia Cook was shot in the back of the head and the spine as she pulled away from an encounter with the policeman in the parking lot of a Catholic school in Culpeper, Virginia. The policeman fired a total of seven rounds at the woman's vehicle. He has been convicted of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of firing into an occupied vehicle.
At the penalty phase of the proceedings, Harmon-Wright, 33, took the stand, repeating the defense that failed to sway the jury earlier. "I was so afraid I was going to die," the now-fired policeman said, describing the encounter with the motorist who, at one point, rolled up her window as the officer attempted to grab her driver's license.
Defense attorney Daniel Hawes described the motorists' actions as "bizarre" and, in asking for a lenient sentence, suggested the middle-aged woman "may have been intending to commit suicide via police officer."
That prompted a hot objection from prosecutor Fisher who told the jury that a slight sentence would send a message that the victim's life "was not very valuable."
Earlier in the week, a court clerk had discovered two dictionaries and a thesaurus in the jury room, and a juror confessed to bringing in the outside materials. The defense asked for a mistrial, but Circuit Court Judge Susan Whitlock denied that motion, and allowed the panel to continue with the penalty phase of the trial.