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Spiker testified that Deavers became so depressed after the VFW fire that she became withdrawn and stopped going out on the gambling junkets the defense asserted provided her with a steady cash flow income.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
Accused Brinklow murderer gets 30-years-9-months on plea agreement and probation violation charges
Following emotional testimony from Jennifer Brinklow, the mother of 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow on the devastating impact on her life of her son’s 2019 murder, and a perhaps surprisingly emotional series of apologies from his accused killer for his role in that murder, the Commonwealth and defense counsels debated at which end of sentencing guidelines 38-year-old Richard Matthew Crouch should be incarcerated on Second Degree Murder and related and unrelated charges he submitted guilty pleas to as part of a plea agreement.
By plea agreement already accepted by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William Sharp, the sentencing range was between 8-years-and-7-months and 28 years-and-9-months. The other involved suspect, George Good, received a 10-year prison sentence with 25 years suspended on August 13, on a similar plea agreement involving two charges of helping Crouch dispose of Brinklow’s body and a variety of unrelated charges. Good was 29 at the time of his sentencing three months ago.
After hearing about an hour and a half of testimony, questions, and arguments Judge Sharp adjourned to chambers at noon, Monday, November 29th to consider his sentencing decision. After 17 minutes Judge Sharp returned to deliver his ruling. That ruling was the high-end 28-years-and-9-months according to sentencing parameters of the plea agreement, after imposing two, 5-year sentences on concealing and defiling (allowing to decompose) a dead body; and 30 years on the Second Degree Murder charge. Crouch will also get credit for time served, about two years. It was said that currently it is estimated that inmates will serve about 85% of their sentence with good behavior time taken off. Crouch also had four, 5-year sentences related to an earlier attack on an ex-girlfriend and his drug possession with intent to distribute charges imposed with all 20 years suspended. He will be on supervised probation for five years after his release.
While getting credit for his time served, two years was later tacked on to the 28-year-9-month sentence, on a probation violation charge argued outside the plea agreement. Arguing that aspect of the cases, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nick Manthos countered defense co-counsel Eric Wiseley’s call to waive the two additional years of active incarceration after his client received nearly three times the sentence George Good did for their respective roles in Brinklow’s murder.
Manthos, as Commonwealth Attorney John Bell had earlier, noted that while Crouch held to his story that it was Good who actually beat Brinklow to death, the physical evidence matched Good’s story that it was Crouch who attacked and strangled Brinklow to death in a methamphetamine-induced paranoid delusional state. Crouch did admit to being up for at least five days straight, perhaps as many as 10 days, doing an extraordinary amount of methamphetamine – he estimated at 3.5 grams (an 8-ball) to twice that amount per day – while trying to finance being on the run from police from an incident several days earlier in which he non-fatally had strangled an ex-girlfriend.
The Commonwealth noted that in his earlier attack on the ex-girlfriend, Crouch had not only choked her but cut off a large portion of her hair. When Good led authorities to Brinklow’s decomposed body, a bone in the neck was discovered broken at autopsy indicative of strangulation, and a large portion of Brinklow’s hair was discovered cut off. Those aspects of the earlier Crouch attack on the ex-girlfriend were not known to Good, the prosecution told the court.
The fact that all the crimes he enter guilty pleas to, including the assault on his ex, the methamphetamine use, and dealing, as well as Brinklow’s murder, occurred while Crouch was on probation led Judge Sharp to side with the prosecution on the necessity of imposing the two probation violation years hanging over Crouch – “There has to be a consequence, otherwise probation means nothing,” Judge Sharp said in rendering his decision on that second part of the day’s hearing on Crouch’s fate behind bars.
While admitting to the drug use and paranoid state leading him to believe that he was going to be robbed of his meth stash worth several thousand dollars, Crouch insisted that Brinklow coming at him with a knife and Good’s response of pulling him off Crouch and beating him to death was not a part of his drug-induced delusions. However, it seemed Crouch and his attorney in the plea sentencing, Howard Manheimer, may have been the only two in court buying into that scenario. It appeared seven relatives and friends accompanied Jennifer Brinklow to court Monday.
Several times asked by the court if he had anything to say before decisions were rendered, Crouch in a low, emotional voice expressed remorse, saying, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry with all my heart.” Crouch told the court and Brinklow’s mother that he had become involved in a jailhouse ministry conducted at RSW and related drug abuse counseling to try and steer inmates away from drug addiction upon their release.
He also looked at Tristen’s mother testifying from the witness box directly in front of him as she recounted the multiple impacts, including being told she now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder) in the wake of her son’s murder. “I didn’t know a person could live without a heart and soul,” Mrs. Brinklow told the courtroom of her life since December 13, 2019, when she was informed it was her missing son’s body discovered in an abandoned freezer near the river. The murder occurred in September 2019.
She said tears came often, stimulated by “a smell, food, a cloud – ANYTHING. I never had anxiety, now there are places I can’t go without breaking down … It’s beyond obvious those two did not know Trey – a few minutes with him and he’d give you anything he had … Four days after he turned 20 you took his life – he was just a kid.”
Following the rendering of his plea agreement sentence of 28-years-9-months, Judge Sharp told Crouch he hoped he made the best out of the portion of his life that will now be spent in prison; that he was truly remorseful for letting a dangerous, illegal drug get a grip on his life that led to this point; and that he would continue to work to counsel others away from a similar fate, and turn his life in a positive direction.
“I wish you luck,” the judge told Crouch.
“Thank you,” Crouch replied.
Local man arrested for robbery of City National Bank
On November 17, 2021, the Front Royal Police Department and the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force arrested Phillip Michael Fincham for the robbery of City National Bank and possession of a controlled substance. Mr. Fincham was taken into custody without incident in the 500 block of Manassas Avenue.
On November 12, 2021, a male subject entered the City National Bank located at 600 North Commerce in the afternoon hours and presented a note to the teller demanding money. The Criminal Investigations Division was also able to connect the same suspect to an attempted robbery of the Circle K Convenience Store on Sunday, November 7, 2021, and attempted Break and Enter of the Knotty Pine Restaurant on Sunday, November 8, 2021, and a Break and Enter with larceny of the Knotty Pine Restaurant on Wednesday, November 10, 2021.
On November 17, 2021, the Northern Regional Drug Task Force determined that Fincham was in possession of narcotics and made contact with him in the 500 block of Manassas Avenue. After a short interview, Fincham was taken into custody and charged with possession. Fincham was also in possession of U.S. currency that matched the serial numbers of the money taken during the robbery from City National Bank on Friday.
Mr. Fincham was subsequently interviewed and confessed to the robbery of City National Bank. Additional charges will be obtained against Mr. Fincham regarding the break and enter of Knotty Pine and the attempted robbery at the Circle K in the next couple of days. Mr. Fincham was held without bond pending his court appearance on the current charges.
The Front Royal Police Department would like to thank the businesses and public for their assistance in this investigation that led to a quick conclusion to this investigation and the ensuing arrest of the suspect. Anyone with any further information is requested to contact the Front Royal Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division at (540) 636-2208.
UPDATE: FRPD seeking suspect in City National Bank robbery
Town of Front Royal Police are seeking what is described as a young, white male suspect 5-foot-3 to 5-foot-6 in the Friday afternoon, November 12, robbery at the City National Bank located at the busy mid-town intersection of Sixth Street and Commerce Avenue. Here is the FRPD Press Release issued shortly after 4 p.m. Monday in its entirety:
“On Friday, November 12, 2021, at approximately 3:45 pm, Front Royal Police Department responded to a reported robbery at the City National Bank located at 600 North Commerce Avenue. Arriving officers were advised that a male suspect had entered the bank and showed the bank teller a note requesting money. The male suspect was given an undisclosed amount of U.S. currency and fled the bank on foot. He was last observed crossing Commerce Avenue heading east on 6th Street. There weren’t any injuries reported in the incident.
“The suspect is described as a young white male possibly in his 20’s, 5’3-5’6, 140-160 lbs. He was last seen wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and a white covid style mask with sunglasses. The suspect did not display a weapon. The police department advises that anyone with information please contact Detective DL Fogle at (540) 636-2208 or email@example.com”
Little civil consequence of more criminal prosecution delays in EDA case
Contacted about the new dates in late 2022 of trials in the now federal prosecutor-handled criminal indictments against former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, current EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne said while it has little, if any, impact on the EDA’s civil litigation seeking recovery of assets, he understands public frustration from continued delays on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal.
“I don’t believe the delay in the criminal case impacts our civil case. We have no control over the criminal case, but it is frustrating that Warren County residents must wait so long for justice to be served. I understand the reasons for the delay, but it still is frustrating,” Browne told Royal Examiner.
The reason for the delay continues to be, as it has been from the outset for the most part, the volume of evidentiary documentation in the case, as well as the introduction of new attorneys into the legal equation who must absorb the information in that documentation estimated at well over a million pages.
Most recently, federal Judge Elizabeth Dillon granted McDonald’s newest attorney, court-appointed Andrea Harris’s request for a continuance of McDonald’s criminal trials slated for the first week of this month. The federal prosecutor from the Western District of Virginia did not object to the continuance. Consequently, new trial dates between October 11 and November 18, 2022, are now on federal docket. Since the delay came at the request of the defense, speedy trial guidelines will not come into play.
As Royal Examiner previously reported, on August 31 McDonald was re-arrested on a 34-count indictment handed down by the Western District of Virginia Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg.
Of those 34 counts, 16 were for money laundering, 10 for bank fraud, 7 for wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft regarding someone identified as “T.T.” – our best guess representing ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran. The 40-paragraph True Bill elaborating on the charges to a Harrisonburg Grand Jury is dated August 25, and signed by then-Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel P. Bubar. McDonald was once again released on bond.
The charges and outline of the case in support of them echo earlier criminal indictments filed at the state level before the State Special Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg turned the case over to federal authorities in late 2019. The state special prosecutor had dropped the indictments it had filed to avoid speedy trial issues due to the volume of evidentiary material – estimated at 800,000 to over a million pages at the time. Failure to meet speedy trial deadlines could have led to defense motions for dismissal of charges on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal case.
Jury convicts Winchester man of distribution of heroin resulting in an overdose
A federal jury convicted a Winchester, Virginia man yesterday for conspiring with others to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin as well as distributing heroin that resulted in serious bodily injury.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Robert Bradley Lockhart, 33, was a heroin dealer connected to a drug pipeline between Baltimore, Maryland and Front Royal, Virginia. During the course of the investigation, the Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force (NWDGTF) Front Royal Team identified more than 30 overdose injuries connected to that heroin pipeline, and conducted dozens of controlled heroin buys, traffic stops, search warrants and interviews with Virginia-based heroin sub-distributors. This investigation led to the arrest of many individuals, including the defendant, Robert Bradley Lockhart.
“Stopping the flow of heroin and other powerful drugs from out-of-state is a top priority of the Justice Department,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said today. “Lockhart, and others, brought hundreds of grams of deadly drugs into Virginia and caused multiple overdoses. I am grateful to the work of the Front Royal Police Department, the DEA, and the Assistant United States Attorneys who prosecuted this conspiracy for closing this deadly pipeline.”
According to cooperating witnesses, Lockhart obtained quantities of heroin ranging from 10 to 30 grams each time he traveled to Baltimore between the summer of 2016 and December 2017, sometimes going to Baltimore several times a week. His heroin sales led to three different overdoses, one of which was the basis for the second count. Law enforcement conducted six controlled purchases of heroin from Lockhart and recovered 24 grams of heroin concealed in his anal cavity on the date of his arrest.
The Front Royal Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathryn Rumsey and Heather L. Carlton prosecuted the case.
Citizen-filed ‘Stalking’ warrant against former school board chairman dismissed, accuser arrested on second ‘Stalking’ charge
On Tuesday, October 26, a misdemeanor “Stalking” warrant filed by Robert L. Shipley III against former Warren County School Board Chairman Arnold M. Williams Jr. was dismissed in Warren County General District Court at the request of the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. The motion for dismissal cites inconsistencies between information in the citizen-acquired warrant and that shown in two video sources, body-cam footage of responding Front Royal Police officers and security video from the public retail site of Shipley’s initial complaint.
“Review of the body camera of the initial report is not consistent with the complaint presented to the magistrate,” Commonwealth Attorney John Bell wrote in his motion for dismissal. In addition to the police body camera recording, Bell references security camera footage at the Martins Grocery store site of the law enforcement response to Shipley’s complaint, noting, “Neither the original report nor the recorded events on the security cameras are sufficient to establish probable cause for a stalking warrant.”
Presented with this information Judge W. Dale Houff granted the request for dismissal.
Had the case not been dismissed, Bell explained that he would have recused himself from it due to familiarity with one of the involved parties, in this case the defendant and his wife, the latter as an attorney a familiar face around the Warren County Courthouse. “If there was an arguable case with at least evidence for probable cause, I would have asked for a special prosecutor to take the case to trial. Since there was no evidence that even amounted to probable cause, I was ethically obliged to dismiss the case,” Bell told Royal Examiner.
It might also be noted that despite the law enforcement response to Martins, FRPD did not file a warrant from officers’ investigation at the scene. Rather, Shipley presented information to the magistrate requesting the warrant. As FRPD Major Kevin Nicewarner told us, FRPD only served the warrant after the magistrate issued it based on the information provided by Shipley.
And there are more layers to this story. It turns out that Williams’ wife, attorney Nancie Williams, had a previous stalking warrant filed against Shipley. RSW Regional Jail records indicate Shipley was booked into the jail on August 26 on a misdemeanor stalking warrant and released September 1, on a $5,000 bond.
And then on October 27, one day after Williams’ charge was dismissed, the 45-year-old Shipley was again booked into RSW Jail, this time on a charge cited as “Stalk person with protective order” believed related to his August arrest on the stalking of Nancie Williams warrant. A second stalking charge with a protective order in place makes it a felony charge. A bond hearing on that felony charge is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, November 3 (which is Shipley’s 46th birthday according to the RSW website). A trial on the original misdemeanor stalking charge is slated for December 11, at 1:30 p.m. in Warren County General District Court.
Contacted about the situation, Nancie Williams said that Mr. Shipley had been an opposing party in a civil matter she worked, the result of which she termed “quite agreeable” between the opposing sides. As to any ongoing civil matters involving Shipley, Williams added that she is no longer counsel in the case and has not been since the conclusion of the original case. However, she observed that from her perspective, “Mr. Shipley’s behavior seemed to escalate following the conclusion of the original case.”
Contacted about his entanglement in what had primarily been a legal situation between his wife and Shipley, Arnold Williams told us, “I guess it was his way to remove me from being protection for my wife and boys. And to be falsely accused is really a hard pill to swallow. But it’s good my charge was dismissed and I hope and pray for my family that Mr. Shipley gets the help he needs to resolve his obsession with my wife.”