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Spiker testified that Deavers became so depressed after the VFW fire that she became withdrawn and stopped going out on the gambling junkets the defense asserted provided her with a steady cash flow income.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
Linden resident strikes pedestrian with vehicle, charged with malicious wounding
In the evening hours of May 12, 2020, the Front Royal Police Department responded to the intersection of East Stonewall Drive and Bee Street for a report of a pedestrian struck by a vehicle. The victim, 54-year-old male, Dale Potter, was quickly located by first responding officers and transported by Warren County EMS personnel to Warren Memorial Hospital for initial treatment. Potter was then flown to Winchester Medical Center for treatment of serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
From the initial investigation, it was discovered the victim was intentionally struck by a passenger car driven by Avery Bailey because of a physical altercation in the minutes prior. Bailey, a 21-year-old Linden resident, fled the scene and abandoned the vehicle at an alternate location. The vehicle and Bailey were located shortly thereafter by FRPD with the assistance of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.
Avery Bailey has been charged with malicious wounding (18.2-51) and was transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail where he is currently being held without bond. The court date for this offense is set for June 30, 2020, in Warren County General District Court.
This investigation is on-going and anyone with any further information is asked to contact Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Town Talk: A conversation with Captain Jeff Holzbauer and Lt. Robbie Seal; watch out for scams, counterfeit money
In this Town Talk, we’ll have a conversation with Captain Jeff Holzbauer and Lt. Robbie Seal from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Lt. Seal is the Community Resource Officer and Captain Holzbauer is in charge of the Patrol Division. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division has the primary law enforcement responsibilities of providing a wide range of services and to initiate a proactive approach when assisting the community.
Lt Seal brings us information on COVID-19 scams in our community. Captain Holzbauer ask for help from the community on two individuals wanted in connection with passing counterfeit money in the County.
The Sheriff’s Office is looking for the following individuals:
Cyrus Bartholomew Fiel, a 31 years old, white male, 5’10”, 160 lbs, red hair, green eyes. He has multiple warrants out for his arrest: Probation Violation, Dangerous Drugs, Forgery of US Currency.
- Wanted out of Strasburg Police Department for Dangerous Drugs
- Wanted out of Front Royal Police Department for a Probation Violation
- Wanted out of WCSO for Forgery of United States Currency
Fiel and other accomplices have allegedly been making counterfeit United States currency, $10, $20, $50, $100. Two arrests have been made in this case already and more charges are pending.
Lekeshian Jones, 33 years old, black female, 5’3″, 180-200 lbs. She is from the Trenton, NJ area. Jones has been identified as one of two females that passed $760 in counterfeit $20 at Walmart in Front Royal on April 11, 2020.
If you have any information, please contact Investigator J. Seabright email@example.com or call the mail number of the Sheriff’s Office (540) 635-4128
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
One vehicle accident downs power lines to Royal Village Wednesday afternoon
The power into Royal Village was interrupted early Wednesday evening as a result of a traffic incident. Town Director of Energy Services David Jenkins responded to Royal Examiner’s request for information on the situation early Thursday morning. Below is the full text of his reply:
“The Energy services department received an online submittal that the power was out in the W 11th St area. a crew was dispatched and upon arrival they found that a vehicle had struck a utility pole that feed’s directly from our Kendrick Lane substation and snapped it off. The crew than began to clear and isolate the primary wire and pole that was on the ground and then proceeded to get the power back on by transferring the loads to another circuit that feeds from our Manassas Avenue substation.
“The pole that was struck also had underground primary feeder attached to it as well. We called in our Public works department for a backhoe to dig up the damaged wire. A contractor for CenturyLink had to be called in to repair the phone lines.
“Power went off at 6:41 pm
“Power back on at 7:27 pm
“Number of customers affected 931”
Information gathered at the scene by Royal Examiner staff indicated the driver of the involved vehicle may have fled the scene on foot.
By late morning Thursday, Front Royal Police Captain Crystal Cline confirmed the arrest of Artavia Michelle Price-Bey for DUI, Property Damage over $1000, and Failure to Maintain Car Insurance, regarding the incident. Price-Bey was transported to RSW Regional Jail and booked into the facility at 9:26 p.m. Wednesday evening. She was released Thursday morning at 11:52 a.m.
Winchester Police on point of carjacking suspect arrest in Front Royal
Prior to 8 a.m., Thursday morning, April 2nd, not far from the Royal Examiner/National Media Services’ Commerce Avenue Front Royal offices, a joint law enforcement operation led by the Winchester City Police Department’s Investigative Unit arrested a suspect on multiple charges in a March 28 incident in the city. Below is the Winchester Police Department’s full press release on its investigation and Thursday morning’s joint-departmental operation:
On April 2, 2020, at approximately 7:15 a.m., the Winchester Police Department (WPD), assisted by other law enforcement agencies, executed a search warrant at 218 East 6th Street in Front Royal, VA following an ongoing investigation into a carjacking in the City of Winchester. As a result of the investigation and search warrant, Diontre Tyrese Bell, 20 years old, of the above address in Front Royal, was arrested and charged with carjacking, robbery, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
On March 28, 2020, at approximately 12:30 a.m., WPD was alerted to a motor vehicle theft that had just occurred in the 100 blocks of East Pall Mall Street. Upon investigation into the incident, detectives learned that the male victim was standing outside his 1990 Dodge Caravan when he was approached by a group of males. One of the males, later identified as Diontre Bell, grabbed the backpack the victim was wearing and took items including a firearm and keys to the van. Threatening statements were made during the encounter. No injuries were sustained during the incident. The van was later recovered on March 30th, parked and unoccupied, along the roadway in the 1300 block of South Braddock Street.
During the execution of the search warrant, two cell phones were seized and DNA was collected. Bell is being held at the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Detention Center without bond. The Winchester Police Department would like to publicly thank the Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force for their assistance in the investigation.
Front Royal man arrested on robbery and weapons charges
Early this morning, D’Andre Lawrence was arrested on felony robbery and weapons charges stemming from an early morning incident at the Blue Ridge Motel. Front Royal Police were called at approximately 1:30am to respond to an alleged robbery that had occurred at the local motel. The victim alleged that two individuals assaulted him and took an undisclosed amount of money and ran in the direction of Massanutten Avenue.
Lawrence was arrested on the mentioned charges and transported to RSW Regional Jail and held without bond. The second individual in this incident was identified as a male juvenile and is wanted for questioning.
Anyone who may have information about this case is asked to please contact Detective Z. King at 540-636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virginia State Police concludes investigation into inmate death at New River Regional Jail
The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville Field Office has concluded its investigation into the September 2019 death of an inmate at the New River Valley Regional Jail. The case is closed and no charges will be placed in accordance with the findings of the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke and at the advisement of the City of Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney and Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The investigation was conducted at the request of the New River Valley Regional Jail. On the evening of September 11, 2019, Radford University Police responded to a call at a campus facility concerning Aris Eduardo Lobo-Perez, 18, of Culpeper, Virginia. Police took him into custody shortly before midnight on a charge of public intoxication. As is standard procedure, Lobo-Perez was transported by the arresting agency to New River Valley Regional Jail in Pulaski County.
At approximately 7:20 a.m. on September 12, 2019, jail personnel approached Lobo-Perez to offer him breakfast, which he declined. It was at 7:50 a.m. that jail personnel found Lobo-Perez unresponsive in his cell. Despite the immediate efforts by jail personnel to resuscitate the inmate, Lobo-Perez was declared deceased at the jail. His remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Roanoke for examination and autopsy.