Courts of appeals upholds Harmon-Wright sentence
The Court of Appeals of Virginia upheld the conviction of former Culpeper Town Police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright, found guilty in January of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Patricia Cook in Culpeper.
Fauquier Commonwealth's Attorney James Fisher served as special prosecutor in the case against Harmon-Wright. In May, Harmon-Wright was sentenced to three years in prison.
The appellate court struck down the appeals of Harmon-Wright's attorney, Daniel Hawes.
Hawes contested Harmon-Wright's conviction on two counts, invoking the "double jeopardy" protection in state and federal law - that a person cannot be convicted twice for the same offense. Harmon-Wright was convicted of unlawful shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in death as well as unlawful shooting into an occupied vehicle.
"He argues that he could not be lawfully convicted of both offenses as they arose out of a single transaction," according to a per curiam opinion issued by the appellate court today.
"However, the evidence established [Harmon-Wright] fired into the victim's vehicle seven times."
Harmon-Wright shot into Cook's car through the driver's window while she was in the parking lot of a private school in downtown Culpeper. He then shot into the car from behind as Cook tried to drive away.
According to the court, the "double-jeopardy" clause is not abridged if the person accused is subject to punishment for multiple offenses supported by separate and distinct acts.
In other words, the court said, "Each act of firing the weapon constituted a separate, distinct act, notwithstanding how closely the second shot followed the first. Each shot required a consciuos decision by [Harmon-Wright] to pull the trigger."
Hawes also contested the evidence against Harmon-Wright as "insufficient to support his convictions."
The appellate court ruled that the evidence, including two eyewitness testimonies, was sufficient that "reasonable jurors" could have made the decision to convict Harmon-Wright of his crimes.
Fisher welcomed the appellate court's opinion. “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,” 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.”
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