FRONT ROYAL – After 2-1/2 hours of deliberation Friday afternoon, March 8, a Warren County Circuit Court jury found Leslie Rose Deavers guilty on the two remaining counts against her – arson of an occupied building and embezzlement of funds from the Samuel R. Millar Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1860. A third charge, arson of a public building, was nol prossed (not prosecuted) by the prosecution at the week-long trial’s outset when it was pointed out the VFW Post headquarters building was not open to the general public.
At the time the fire broke out the VFW headquarters building was occupied by long-time VFW Post employee Deavers, her boss Billy Rose (now deceased) and visitor Brendon Squire who had stopped in to inquire about joining the Front Royal VFW Post.
After another 40 minutes of deliberation, the jury then came in with a sentencing recommendation on the low end of the incarceration range on those convictions. The 57-year-old Deavers faced a prison sentence of 5 to 20 years on the arson conviction and from no time to 12 months in jail or 1 to 20 years in prison on the embezzlement conviction.
The jury recommendation was the minimum 5 years in prison for the arson of the VFW Post headquarters on July 11, 2015; and 6 months in jail on an embezzlement scheme the prosecution contended the arson was set to cover up. The eight-woman, four-man jury also recommended the maximum fine of $100,000 on the arson conviction and the maximum fine of $2,500 on the embezzlement conviction.
Testimony from prosecution expert witness, ATF forensic auditor David Clemson indicated Deavers made 98 cash deposits into a joint bank account shared with her boyfriend of 17 years, Ashby Spiker Sr., totaling $105,010 in 2014 and 2015, prior to the July 2015 fire that destroyed the VFW Post headquarters. After the fire those cash deposits dried up, prosecution forensic audit evidence indicated.
Spiker testified that Deavers became so depressed after the VFW fire that she became withdrawn and stopped going out on the gambling junkets the defense asserted provided her with a steady cash flow income.
Deavers took both the verdict and sentencing recommendation without any visible emotional reaction.
Judge Clifford L. “Clay” Athey Jr. set a May 24 hearing date for arguments on a defense motion to strike the jury verdict and on sentencing should the defense motion be denied by the court. A pre-sentence report on the defendant will also be filed prior to the May 24 hearing. The defense must file its written motion to strike the jury verdict by April 8; the prosecution’s response is due by May 8; and the defense reply brief is due by May 19.
Lead defense counsel Jason Ransom promised an appeal should the convictions hold. Following the prosecution’s objection, Athey denied the defense team’s request to reset bond for their client pending the May 24 hearing date. So Deavers, who has been free on a secured $25,000 bond for about two years following her arrest on February 8, 2017, was remanded to the custody of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at about 5:45 p.m. Friday afternoon.
Deavers was arrested after an extensive 18-month investigation involving multiple agencies. Following Deavers’ conviction late Friday afternoon Warren County Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico, who testified extensively about details of the fire investigation as one prosecution expert witness, thanked those involved agencies including the Front Royal Police Department, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and ATF’s Forensic Audit Division, the Fire Marshal’s Offices of Shenandoah, Frederick and Loudoun Counties, and of course Maiatico’s own Warren County Fire & Rescue Department – “It was an intense investigation and it’s great to see our justice system work,” Maiatico said after the trial’s conclusion.
In the wake of Deavers’ conviction current VFW Post Commander Jeff Cook said, “It’s bittersweet. No one really wins in this – you’re talking about someone losing their freedom and you’re talking about justice being served. It’s something I’m going to wrestle with. But we fought long and hard over the last three years since the fire; hopefully, now that the verdict is out there the air is cleared of any potential wrongdoing on a post member’s part. Hopefully, we can get the word out to the community and maybe we can get a chance at rebuilding the Post.”
Cook also gave emotional testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial after Friday’s guilty verdict came in.
“Will you rebuild soon?” Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden asked.
“I don’t believe so. It’s been very difficult – we were woefully under-insured at the time of the fire,” Cook replied. Damage assessments estimated the value of the lost headquarters, which had to be demolished following the fire, in the $400,000 range.
Cook noted that existing regulations require that a new VFW Post be built 13 to 15 feet off the ground due to floodplain requirements. “So the cost is about four times the amount originally projected. Short of a donation from someone with deep pockets we’re chipping away slowly at the $400,000, $500,000, $600,000 that will be necessary.”
Asked by Madden about the impact of the loss of the headquarters building and the Post’s thus far unsuccessful effort toward rebuilding, Cook said it had been a difficult three years since the fire.
“We exist as an organization by monthly meetings at the American Legion, who have been gracious enough to allow us to use their headquarters,” Cook said.
Cook appeared emotional as he noted the loss of 13 members who have died in the years since the Post 1860 building was destroyed.
“Most are aged – the greatest generation is passing fast,” Cook said of the few remaining World War II veterans, “Some were POW’s from Vietnam.”
“Is there a sense of betrayal?” Madden inquired.
“Yes, everyone at that Post loved her. No one wins here. We feel stabbed – we fought and were at the point of being able to offer her full-time employment, now we’re not.”
In the wake of some positive comments by VFW Post members, even prosecution witnesses, about Deavers’ presence at VFW Post 1860 as its bar, events and V-Tab slot gambling machine manager, defense attorney Ransom asked Cook one question on cross-examination.
“What percentage of members think she did it?”
“I’d say 90%,” Cook replied.
“Really, 90% – no further questions.”
Asked about the exchange during a recess, Cook said, “I’m surprised that he asked the question. There were a few who would never believe that she would do it and there are others who said, ‘Look, it just doesn’t make sense – there had to be something there.’ ”
Of the prosecution’s case and jury’s support of it, Cook observed, ”You could pick apart one or two things but those one or two things were all interlinked – and it was just that, the interlinking that told the story.”
Of the jury that reached a unanimous verdict in 2-1/2 hours in a complicated, circumstantial case developed over an 18-month, multi-faceted investigation, Cook said, “I’m proud of them – they’re a part of our community and it’s good to know you can get justice in rural America. It makes me even more proud that I wore that uniform for as long as I did.”
The reaction from the defense side was different.
“I’m stunned; I’m shocked,” Ransom who led the defense with co-counsel Jonathan Silvester, said. “When I heard it I said I do not understand how they reached that verdict. I thought it was clear that she didn’t embezzle any money; I thought it was clear she didn’t burn the building down. I don’t think the commonwealth met their burden of proof. I don’t even think it was close to meeting their burden of proof … I just don’t see how they reached (that verdict) – it just blows my mind.”
In arguing against jail time for his client in the sentencing phase, Ransom noted that Deavers maintains her innocence and emphasized his client’s clean police record and her importance as a stabilizing influence in the lives of her two adult children and seven grandchildren, two of whom aged two and four live with her and long-time boyfriend Ashby Spiker.
“It will be difficult for her grandkids and Ashby Spiker,” Ransom told the jury of Deavers absence from their lives.
And if not totally convinced, as noted above the jury did come in with a sentencing recommendation on the low end of incarceration ranges. Next Ransom will target Judge Athey, first on the defense motion to strike the jury verdict, and if not successful in that endeavor, on a sentence even beneath the low-end incarceration guidelines recommended by the jury.
In his closing in the sentencing phase, Layton asked the jury to listen to the words of Post Commander Cook “and do what you think is appropriate.”
In rebuttal to the defense closing, Layton suggested that rather than impacts on the defendant’s life, the jury consider the impacts on the members of VFW Post 1860 – “What about the impact on those men? That place of community has been ripped away from them … find an appropriate balance,” Layton urged the jury.
Updated March 9, 2019
He’s back: Hollis Tharpe’s solicitation charge dropped – will run for mayor
An emotional Hollis Tharpe let one of his attorneys speak for him in the wake of Special Prosecutor Heather Hovermale’s request that Judge William W. Sharpe dismiss the misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution charge against him Monday afternoon. It was a request Judge Sharpe granted.
“Based on this testimony the Commonwealth believes it cannot go forward,” Hovermale said after posing several questions to Cynthia Bailey, operator of a massage parlor on the 300 block of Biggs Drive in Front Royal. Bailey responded to each question, including whether she knew Tharpe or if he had ever touched her in a way she did not invite, asserting her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate.
As noted by her attorney David Downes prior to her questioning by the special prosecutor, the 55-year-old Bailey is facing two misdemeanor and two felony charges related to the operation of her massage parlor under the banner of Blue Valley Services.
Prior to questioning Bailey, Hovermale told the court prosecutors initially believed Bailey would be a cooperating witness, but later learned through her attorney that she planned to exercise her Fifth Amendment right if called as a witness in the Tharpe prosecution. Hovermale noted that the Commonwealth’s case against Tharpe revolved around Bailey, whom she observed was the only person present to hear the alleged solicitation request by Tharpe.
The whole hearing lasted 10 minutes, ending at 3 p.m., Monday afternoon, July 15.
Tharpe initially stopped outside the second-floor Warren County Circuit Courtroom B to address media present, but then quietly turned away arm in arm with his wife Debbie, saying, “I’m a little emotional right now,” as tears welled in his eyes and the couple moved away for some privacy.
Beau Bassler and David Hensley represented Tharpe. As Hensley returned to the courtroom for another case, Bassler commented on the outpouring of support his client had received from old friends and new – “Hundreds, thousands of people have sent prayers to him; they believe in him. He is a man of faith and that faith has taken him far. His wife, family and friends have all stood by him.”
Bassler noted his client’s resignation as mayor of Front Royal in the wake of the charges – “He stepped down so as not to be a distraction to the conduct of town government. Fortunately now the distraction in his life is over.”
“I guess it is appropriate at this time to announce I will be on the ballot for the November 5th election,” Tharpe did manage to say outside the courtroom. He said he had turned about 190 signatures in to the Voter Registrar to get on the mayoral ballot in November, 125 signatures are required to be put on the ballot.
After being indicted on the one misdemeanor count of solicitation by a Warren County Grand Jury, perhaps ironically whose foreman was now Interim Front Royal Mayor Matthew Tederick, on April 15, Tharpe initially announced he would place himself on administrative leave. But four days later on April 19 Tharpe said he would resign as mayor effective May 2. Tharpe explained his decisions as not wanting the charge against him to distract town government from the conduct of its business pending a resolution of his case.
At the time Tharpe called the misdemeanor charge against him “embarrassing” and “baseless”. He admitted to visiting the massage parlor, but for what he said were legitimate massages on his aching 67-year-old body.
Asked Monday if he now regretted stepping down as mayor, Tharpe said no. But he later added outside the courthouse, “They can’t take the mayor’s job away from me, the people gave it to me with 95% of the vote. Tharpe ran unopposed in his last election for a term slated to run to 2020. Interim Mayor Tederick has said he is not interested in seeking election to a full term.
Tharpe attorney Bassler praised the special prosecutor for her actions at Monday’s hearing. “Heather Hovermale is a fair prosecutor, a prosecutor of integrity. Instead of prolonging this to torture someone, in the face of developments in the case she let it go.”
A Virginia State Police press release announcing Tharpe’s pending indictment on April 12 indicated Tharpe’s charge stemmed from an investigation launched at the direction of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
That there was an investigation into Tharpe went public on August 30, 2018, when Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden filed notice he would recuse himself from any possible prosecution relating to an “Investigation Concerning Hollis Tharpe”. Special Prosecutor Hovermale works out of the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office of Marc Abrams, which was handed the case following Madden’s recusal announcement.
Had Bailey testified against Tharpe during Monday’s hearing, arguments on a change of venue request by the prosecution would have been heard. However in the wake of Bailey’s invocation of her Fifth Amendment right, the change of venue request became a moot point.
McDonald criminal plea hearing postponed
The entry of pleas to the 12 felony criminal charges of embezzlement or fraudulent misdirection of EDA assets by former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer McDonald has been put off to a yet-to-be determined date. McDonald’s plea hearing was scheduled as part of the 9 a.m. docket on the July Grand Jury-Term Day on Monday, July 15.
However newly-seated Circuit Court Judge William W. Sharpe, who is moving from Domestic Relations Court to replace Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. who is taking a seat on the Virginia Appeals Court on September 1, entered a written recusal from EDA-related cases on Friday, July 12. In the wake of that recusal notice neither McDonald nor her criminal attorney Peter Greenspun were in court Monday. McDonald was transferred from RSW Regional Jail to the Fairfax Adult Detention Center on June 11. Greenspun’s office is in Fairfax.
In his recusal Sharpe writes, “It is necessary for this judge to recuse from all cases that may relate to the Warren County Economic Development Authority and Jennifer McDonald, in order to ensure that all parties can be confident the judge has no association with any persons who might be involved in a particular case, either as parties or a witness.”
Sharpe prefaces that statement by pointing out that, “a number of persons who are named as defendants in the pending EDA civil action against Jennifer McDonald and other parties, as well as members of the EDA Board and persons who it appears may be material witnesses in the civil action filed by the EDA, as well as other related civil actions or filed and possible criminal proceedings arising out of the same transactions, are personal friends or former clients or persons with whom the judge has otherwise had regular associations.”
In fact this reporter ran into Judge Athey outside the courthouse on Friday, July 12. During a brief conversation about the coming week’s EDA-related hearings Athey explained that he would be fazed out of the EDA hearings equation during the coming week to accommodate both his pending move to the state appeals court and the transfer of judicial authority over the EDA civil and criminal cases to other 26th Judicial District judges.
Athey was aware of Sharpe’s recusal and even commented that had he not been moving off the Warren County bench as the EDA cases progressed toward evidentiary hearings and trial he likely would also have recused for similar reasons to those stated by Sharpe, personal or professional familiarity with involved parties. He said he felt it acceptable to hear early motions prior to evidentiary testimony becoming involved in order to keep the cases moving forward in their early stages.
Athey’s primary rulings thus far have been to deny McDonald bond as a flight risk in her criminal cases and an order that EDA civil counsel produce the evidentiary basis for what is a currently a nine-defendant civil suit seeking recovery of a total of over $21-million dollars. That order led to the release into court files of public accounting firm Cherry Bekaert’s “working papers” from its contracted investigation of indicators of financial fraud in EDA operations.
On Monday Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton said it was unclear how the coming judicial appointments might impact other scheduled EDA hearings this week. Motions in the EDA civil action are scheduled for the 9 a.m. docket Wednesday, July 17 and former EDA Administrative Assistant Michelle “Missy” Henry’s already once-delayed bond hearing is scheduled on the 9 a.m. docket Friday, July 19.
Henry was arrested by VSP on sealed special grand jury indictments on June 24. Retired substitute Judge Thomas Horne deferred a decision on bond for Henry on June 25, citing his unfamiliarity with the case. It now remains unclear if the ongoing judicial juggling may again delay a bond decision for Henry this week.
The Warren County Special Grand Jury empanelled to investigate potential criminality connected to the EDA civil case is also scheduled to meet through the latter part of the week.
In a not directly-related criminal case, former Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe has a motions hearing scheduled Monday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. on his solicitation of prostitution misdemeanor case.
Ranking presiding 26th Judicial District Judge Bruce D. Albertson will be responsible for appointing judges to hear EDA-related cases that Sharpe has recused himself from. According to the Virginia Judicial website, active 26th District judges besides Sharpe and the soon-to-be-departed Athey, include Clark A. Ritchie, Kevin C. Black, Alexander R. Iden and Thomas J. Wilson.
However, it is possible Judge Albertson could appoint another substitute judge, including retired court officers who still help the district fill its judicial requirements when shortages and recusals occur.
228 S. Royal Avenue targeted by 2nd law enforcement operation in 7 months
A multi-jurisdictional law enforcement raid descended on a residence at 228 South Royal Avenue in Front Royal at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, July 9. Neighbors from the apartment complex across the street said it was the second law enforcement operation targeting the building within seven months.
One neighbor pinpointed that initial raid, mirroring the latest operation, to December 13, 2018, at 6 a.m.
Units from the Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and plain clothes officers believed to be with the Virginia State Police were all at the scene Tuesday evening. FRPD gave VSP Officer Tony Fox as a contact person for information on the operation. “Members of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force executed a search warrant Tuesday evening (July 9) at a residence in the 200 block of South Royal Avenue in Front Royal. The search warrant is related to an ongoing task force investigation. Charges are pending related to the investigation.”
Neighbors said a SWAT team vehicle approached the targeted address from an alley to the west of South Royal and through the South Towne Apartments parking lot immediately after FRPD units blocked off South Royal Avenue at Prospect Street and Stonewall Avenue.
They reported two flash bang reports coming as officers used a battering ram to bust through the front door of the residence, with a third bang being heard from inside about two minutes later.
The SWAT vehicle was seen departing the scene by way of an alley behind buildings on the 200 block of South Royal Avenue to the east at 8:49 p.m. A sheriff’s office K-9 unit approached the building from the rear shortly after the SWAT team departure.
The targeted structure sits between Rick’s Auto Care at the intersection of Prospect Street and South Royal Avenue and The Phoenix Project Domestic Violence Center to the north. Thus far unverified information indicates that 228 South Royal is a rental residence, owned by one of the nearby businesses. Royal Examiner is attempting to verify that information, as well as any charges filed in the wake of Tuesday’s law enforcement operation.
Front Royal July 4 Amber Alert child returned unharmed – suspect sought
The two-year-old Front Royal child reported abducted and in extreme danger shortly after midnight on July 4 was returned home safely according to a press release from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. The press release from the office of Sheriff Michael Arnold issued at 12:18 p.m. July 4 states that, “On July 4, 2019 at approximately 11:45 a.m. Raequon Ashby, a 2 year old that an Amber Alert had been previously issued for due to his abduction was returned to his residence unharmed.”
However the suspected abductor of two-year-old Raequon Alan Ashby, 21-year-old Jashar Raequon Ashby is still being sought on three related charges: § 18.2-95 Grand larceny; § 18.2-47. Abduction and kidnapping; and § 18.2-57.2. Assault and battery against a family or household member.
While two-year-old Raequon Ashby was described as a “white male with curly, brown hair and blue eyes” in the AMBER Alert, the suspected abductor Jashar Raequon Ashby was described as a black male, 5-10, 130 pounds, sporting blond dreadlocks. Photos of Jashar Raequon Ashby with and without the dreadlocks were included in the VSP Amber Alert.
As noted above, his relationship to the child was not included in the Amber Alert, update or press release on the child’s safe return. But while the relationship between the child and alleged abductor has yet to be publicly mentioned, the name similarity of the boy and suspect could indicate the child may have been taken during a domestic incident between the father and mother, or the father and maternal relatives.
A July 4 WCSO press release initially marked “draft” offered more detail on the incident leading to the AMBER Alert for young Raequon Ashby and the consequent charges against Jashar Raequon Ashby: “On July 3, 2019 at approximately 2:30 P.M. the Warren County Sheriff’s Office responded to Park Way for the report of fight in progress.
“When deputies arrived and spoke with the victim who was identified as a 17 year old female of Front Royal, VA, it was determined that during the incident she had been assaulted by a Jashar Raequon Ashby. Ashby is a 21 year old male previously of Front Royal VA.
“During the assault Ashby stole a Chrysler van red in color with Virginia registration VTR-8376 which had been driven by the 17 year old juvenile. The van was later recovered in Warren County and was unoccupied.”
The initial Virginia State Police AMBER Alert went out early Thursday morning, July 4, at 12:25 a.m. A VSP update issued 21 minutes later at 12:46 a.m. stated the believed involved vehicle, the above-described red 2008 Chrysler Town and Country minivan, had been found abandoned, though no location was included in that report.
It was in that update on the vehicle location that it was first stated authorities believed the child to be in “extreme danger” and that he had gone missing just over eight hours earlier. The boy was returned home safely after an absence of about 20 hours.
The WCSO is asking anyone with information on the incident, or the current location of the suspect, who was last seen wearing a purple camouflage shirt, to contact WCSO Investigator Pugh at (540) 635-4128.
Additional charges placed after continued investigation of robbery on Quiet Hollow Way
On June 28, 2019, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a robbery on Quiet Hollow Way in Warren County.
Since the initial press release and continuance of the investigation, additional charges have been placed on the following people.
Jonathan Robinson, a 20-year-old male of Front Royal, was arrested on July 1, 2019, and charged with the following:
- Conspiracy to commit robbery
Kirstin Carroll, an 18-year-old female of Strasburg, was arrested on July 2, 2019, and charged with the following:
- Principal in the second degree to commit robbery
- Possession of stolen property
Robinson was released on bond, and Carroll is currently being held without bond at RSW Regional Jail.
Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to please contact Sergeant Maxfield at (540) 635-7100 or (540) 636-5977.
Robbery on Quiet Hollow Way, three males arrested and charged
Warren County, VA – On June 6, 2019, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office responded to Quiet Hollow Way for a report of a robbery. A juvenile male was meeting with a previous acquaintance when he was struck with a firearm and his valuables were taken.
The victim had previously met with the acquaintance but did not know his identity. The acquaintance also had additional subjects with him that the victim had never seen before. During the course of the investigation, several interviews were conducted in an attempt to identify individuals that were involved. After extensive research and interviews, our office was able to develop and identify suspects and evidence related to this incident, which resulted in the following charges being placed:
Noah Simpson, an 18-year-old male of Front Royal, was arrested and charged with the following charges:
- Robbery, Conspiracy to commit robbery, Abduction by force, and Use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Daytwan Green, a 19-year-old male of Winchester, was arrested and charged with the following charges:
- Robbery, Conspiracy to commit robbery, and Abduction by force.
A 17-year-old male, whose identity is not being released at this time due to being a juvenile of Front Royal, was charged with the following charges:
- Robbery, Conspiracy to commit robbery, Abduction by force, possession of a stolen firearm, and possession of a firearm after being adjudicated a delinquent.
Simpson and Green are currently being held without bond at RSW Regional Jail. The juvenile is being held at the Northwestern Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Winchester.
The following agencies assisted in the apprehension of two of the individuals involved: Winchester City Police, Strasburg Police, and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office.
The investigation is ongoing and additional charges may be pending. Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to please contact Sergeant Maxfield at (540) 635-7100 or (540) 636-5977.