FRONT ROYAL – If it was a boxing match it would have been ruled a split decision – on Wednesday evening, April 10, just over an hour after returning a guilty verdict on two counts of negligent child endangerment against 29-year-old Tabitha Zimmerman in the November 2017 death of her 22-month-old son Malakai and injuries sustained by twin brother Micah at the hands of her then fiancé Chad Ritchie, a six-man, six-woman jury recommended no time served and no fine on either conviction.
Zimmerman faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $2500 on each conviction. Actually a question submitted by the jury prior to its sentencing recommendation indicated a desire to credit Zimmerman for the eight months she served in RSW Regional Jail following her November 9, 2017 arrest prior to being released on bond. The jury also asked if a parenting class could be recommended for the defendant.
Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. replied that neither of those were part of the sentencing options. One minute after returning to deliberations, a 10:30 p.m. knock on the jury room door indicated the jury was ready with its authorized sentencing recommendation.
As reported in Royal Examiner’s coverage of the first two days of the trial, the prosecution case against Zimmerman revolved around the contention there had been a long-term pattern of abuse by Ritchie that Zimmerman was aware of and allowed to continue. SEE RELATED STORY:
Ritchie was called as a prosecution witness against Zimmerman. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton simply asked Ritchie, who entered an Alford guilty plea on the second day of his December trial, to verify his written account of the events of November 8, 2017, including his striking of the twins in the body and head while watching the children while their mother was on a 12-hour night shift at Rubbermaid where the couple had met.
However on cross examination by defense attorney John Bell, Ritchie was asked if he had ever previously struck the boys. “No,” Ritchie replied. Layton countered the impact of that answer by his witness by telling the jury during closing arguments that Ritchie had a tendency to minimize his wrongdoing toward the children, including the evening of Malakai’s death. SEE RELATED STORY:
In both his closing argument against conviction, as well as an earlier motion to strike the commonwealth’s case against his client for a lack of evidence presented, Bell cited, not only the testimony of the prosecution witness who admitted to causing the injuries to the twins culminating in the death of one, but also the testimony of the commonwealth’s three expert witnesses.
Those witnesses were State Forensic Pathologist Meghan Kessler who did Malakai Zimmerman’s autopsy; Winchester Medical Center Forensic Nurse Betty Fisher who examined surviving brother Micah the evening of the incident; and Pediatrician Ashley Blanzit who treated the boys on a regular basis.
Bell told the jury Wednesday that all of the commonwealth’s expert witnesses had testified under cross examination that none of the older bruises, scabs or marks on the boys were of a nature to raise abuse alarm bells without the presence of the newer marks admittedly inflicted by Ritchie and determined to be the cause of Malakai’s death and Micah’s injuries of November 8, 2017.
Of one health concern for Malakai expressed by Pediatrician Blanzit, weight loss from 25 pounds at 18 months to 17 pounds at 21 months, the month before his death, Bell noted Kessler’s autopsy report indicating Malakai “was well-nourished” and weighed 33 pounds at the time of his death.
“Nobody saw it coming,” Bell told the jury. Those “nobodies” included the twins’ pediatrician who is bound by law to report signs of abuse; Tabitha Zimmerman’s parents in whose basement she and Ritchie had been living for two months prior to November 8, 2017; or the two prosecution expert medical witnesses who saw the children in the wake of Ritchie’s admitted violence of that November evening.
In arguing for a lower end jury sentencing recommendation Bell described his client as a twice broken woman: first at her own doing as an opioid addict; then as a mother whose twins had been the catalyst for her to kick her addiction and become a devoted, hard-working mother, again broken by the death of one child and injury and consequent legal separation from her surviving son due to the mistake “of trusting the wrong man”.
Bell added that once released from jail after her arrest for contributing to the death and injuries to her twins, rather than return through despair to addiction, she had reentered the workforce to again become “a productive member of society” who continued to pass drug screenings.
The remaining question, Bell asked the jury that had just convicted his client on a paucity of evidence “is how badly do you want to break her again?”
The fortunate answer for Bell and his client was not much at all.
Bell noted during sentencing arguments that his client remains on probation in Fauquier County for an earlier offense. With the potential of her probation being jeopardized by this conviction, we asked Bell if he might move to overturn the conviction or failing that, appeal the verdict.
Defense counsel said he would discuss those options with his client.
Judge Athey gave the defense 21 days to submit a motion to set aside the verdict; and the prosecution 21 days to respond if that defense motion is filed. If arguments are forthcoming on a defense motion, Athey set them for the June 21 circuit court docket.
Judge Athey must approve the jury sentencing recommendation. A final sentencing hearing date will be set following decisions on coming motions. SEE RELATED STORY:
Missing juvenile located, Arkansas man arrested
A 14-year-old Frederick County juvenile has been located safely and an Arkansas man is under arrest, at this time, facing various charges to include abduction. Rae-Anna Allen was last seen leaving her home in Winchester on Sunday, January 9th around 11:07am and was later reported missing by her family. Deputy J.A. Tanner and Investigator B.J. Hazelwood worked in tandem to attempt to locate Rae-Anna and began re-tracing her movements through digital forensics and with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies. Electronic footprints had shown a strong possibility that Rae-Anna was mobile in a vehicle and no longer in Frederick County, or the Commonwealth of Virginia, by early Sunday evening.
Law enforcement officials in Virginia and Tennessee began checking for video surveillance along the I-81 corridor, in areas where cellphone towers indicated Rae-Anna’s phone had recently been active. The hope was to spot the juvenile, and any person she may be with, or a vehicle she might be traveling in for a nationwide Amber Alert to be issued. The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office had over 3,000 social media post shares of Rae-Anna’s disappearance that reached over 170,000 people including the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children who then shared that information to thousands more.
A possible location for Rae-Anna 1,100 miles from Winchester, in Arkansas, was obtained and is where the Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office executed a search of a home overnight. Sheriff’s deputies found Rae-Anna in the company of 22-year-old Christopher Lane Stone of Hope, Arkansas and immediately took the male into custody. In Frederick County, Deputy Tanner obtained a warrant for abduction that was served on Stone by HCSO at 2:48 am. A follow-up investigation is being conducted by the Arkansas authorities and further charges, from that jurisdiction, are pending.
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office wishes to acknowledge and thank: The Virginia State police BCI High Tech Division, the Blountville (TN) Sheriff’s Office, the Green County (TN) Sheriff’s Office, the United States Marshalls Service, the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children and the Hempstead County (AR) Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Lenny Millholland is proud of the work of his people, and grateful for the support and assistance from the community in getting critical information on Rae-Anna out to so many people so quickly, resulting in locating and bringing this missing juvenile home safely.
New fencing up, Holloway’s ‘Dog Day’ in court ends with dismissal and payment of court costs
On the 10 a.m. Wednesday morning (Jan. 12) docket in Warren County General District Court, a misdemeanor charge of dogs running at large against Front Royal Mayor Chris Holloway was dismissed with payment of $104 in court costs. Holloway was not in court, but was represented by counsel John O’Neill. Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Lindsay LeHew represented the prosecution and Judge W. Dale Houff presided. The charge carries a maximum $200 fine.
Contacted outside the courtroom, O’Neill explained the resolution as typical of a defendant coming into compliance on this type of charge. He noted that Holloway’s construction of new fencing capable of holding his two large Bull Mastiffs on his Virginia Avenue property had been verified by involved Warren County Sheriff’s Office Deputy C.R. Clatterbuck and that the Commonwealth had been notified of the defendant’s effort to come into compliance in preventing future escapes of his two large canines.
Holloway’s summons was issued on Nov. 28 in the wake of a complaint by Holloway neighbor Cheryl Langlais after she and her adult son were charged by the dogs along Virginia Avenue, one of which was said to have grabbed ahold of the son’s clothing in an aggressive manner. When multiple previous complaints involving the Holloway’s dogs were noted by law enforcement the summons was issued.
Shooting death at Frederick County residence under investigation
At approximately 11:50 a.m. today (Dec. 30), a shooting was reported in the 100 block of Dick’s Hollow Road in Frederick County which has resulted in the death of one person.
- The Sheriff’s Office can confirm that a male subject was shot by the homeowner during some type of verbal or physical altercation.
- There were multiple subjects in the residence at the time with one subject fatally struck by gunfire.
- Early indications are that there was only a single shot fired.
- The subject who fired the weapon is in custody.
- There is no ongoing threat to the community currently.
- The identity of the victim is not being released pending notification of next of kin.
Details are limited at this time as this incident remains an active crime scene with law enforcement still processing evidence and speaking to witnesses and suspects. A more detailed press release will be forthcoming in the future.
Holloway cited in November dog charge
After numerous complaints of his large mastiff dogs running loose in the neighborhood Mayor Chris Holloway has been issued a summons to appear in Warren County Circuit Court on Jan. 12, 2022, at 10 a.m.
According to a November 28 citation issued by Warren County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant C.R. Clatterbuck, Holloway was charged with a single count of dogs running at large, which carries a maximum $200 penalty.
Clatterbuck’s incident report states he arrived in the area of Academy Drive and Virginia Avenue for a dog bite call and “observed two very large brown dogs in the middle of Academy Drive.” He wrote that he “observed a male subject (identified as Holloway) attempting to contain the dogs, but the dogs were not listening.” Once the dogs were contained and Clatterbuck spoke to Holloway, the dog owner “explained that his dogs were nice and did not bite anyone,” the report states.
The citizen who made the initial call for assistance, Cheryl Langlais, reached out to Royal Examiner the evening of the incident. She relayed that she and her adult son had been walking in their neighborhood when the dogs approached the pair in a menacing manner. She stated that the dogs had frequently roamed the neighborhood and she felt that the situation was “an accident waiting to happen”.
Langlais said in a telephone interview that the dogs were “growling and barking before grabbing my son’s arm and leg.” It was at that point that Langlais called police, hastily telling the dispatcher that the dog had “bitten my child” before ending the call and attempting to help her son.
Langlais explained that though the dog grabbed her son, its teeth had latched on to loose portions of his clothing and not penetrated to his skin. Clatterbuck’s report confirmed that there was no bite injury and noted that the dogs had “come up to them and nudged them hard.”
Upon speaking to Holloway, Clatterbuck writes in the report that “Mr. Holloway showed me in the rear of his fence, he had green fence post driven into the ground to attempt to contain the dogs due to a short fence issue.” Holloway, according to the incident report, stated that he had been pricing fencing at a local store and planned to install a new fence.
Following that conversation, Clatterbuck wrote that he contacted dispatch and “spoke to other deputies who both advised me we have dealt with the same issue with same dogs multiple times.” He stated that Holloway was issued a summons for dog at large and given information regarding available fencing.
Langlais told Royal Examiner that she had tried to be neighborly regarding Holloway’s dogs and had tried to help “round them up” in the past when they had escaped from the waist-high fence.
“All of this could have been avoided with an act of civility on Holloway’s part, had he simply apologized or inquired if everyone was okay. He is not neighborly, not a good citizen, particularly as a leader.”
Royal Examiner reached out to Holloway for comment, but he did not respond.
UPDATE: I-81 Rest Area Shooting Suspect Deceased; Investigation Remains Ongoing
The investigation continues into a shooting that occurred at a Frederick County Rest Area along Interstate 81 Sunday (Dec. 26) morning.
Shortly before 9:30 a.m., a man and woman became engaged in a domestic dispute at the southbound I-81 Rest Area at the 320-mile marker. When the dispute turned physical, several individuals who happened to be at the Rest Area tried to intervene for the woman’s safety. The 34-year-old male, Cesar Juarez Avila, then began firing at the woman and individuals who had intervened. The woman and three males were shot. Avila fled the Rest Area driving a Chevrolet Malibu.
The female and two male victims were transported to Winchester Medical Center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. A third male victim was flown to Fairfax Inova Hospital for treatment of serious, but non-life-threatening, injuries.
State police, with the assistance of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, secured the Rest Area and began actively following up on leads concerning Avila’s whereabouts.
Shortly after 12 p.m. Sunday, a Frederick County Sheriff’s Deputy spotted the Chevrolet Malibu traveling on Airport Road in Frederick County. When the sheriff’s deputy and state police pulled in behind the Chevrolet, it sped away and a short pursuit ensued. Law enforcement positioned their vehicles around the suspect vehicle and forced it to a stop. When the Malibu came to a stop, law enforcement witnessed shots being fired inside the Malibu. When troopers approached the vehicle, they located Avila in the driver’s seat suffering from a gunshot wound.
Avila was transported to Winchester Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries. Avila’s body was transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Manassas for autopsy and examination.
No law enforcement discharged their weapons during the course of the incident. A handgun was recovered from inside the Malibu.
The incident remains under investigation by the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office.
The I-81 southbound Rest Area was reopened to the public at approximately 4 p.m. Sunday.
Virginia State Police investigating deputy-involved shooting in Rappahannock County
At the request of Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Compton, Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins, and Madison County Sheriff Erik Weaver, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Culpeper Field Office is investigating a pursuit and shooting that involved their personnel.
At 5:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 17, 2021), the Town of Culpeper Police Department issued a “Be On the Lookout” to regional law enforcement for Jeremy A. Yates, 21, of Culpeper, Va. An Emergency Custody Order (ECO) had been obtained for him and it was believed that he may be armed with a gun.
At approximately 9 p.m., a Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy observed a 2018 Chevrolet Colorado stopped in the roadway on Rt. 231 (Etlan Rd) in Madison County. As deputies from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office approached the Chevrolet, Yates sped away and a pursuit ensued. During the course of the pursuit, Yates began firing shots at passing vehicles. When the pursuit continued north on Rt. 231 into Rappahannock County, a Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Deputy became involved in the pursuit. It was during this time that Yates fired and struck a Rappahannock County Deputy’s vehicle multiple times.
As Yates was driving south on Rt. 707 (Slate Mills Rd) near the intersection of Rt. 644 (Reva Rd) – which is inside the Rappahannock County but right at the Culpeper County line – he began shooting at Culpeper County Sheriff’s Deputies who were stopped in the roadway and facing north on Slate Mills Road. The Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office personnel returned fire. The Chevrolet Colorado then ran off the left side of the road, collided with an embankment, and overturned.
Deputies attempted to render first aid, but Yates died at the scene. His remains were transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas for examination and autopsy.
Two handguns were recovered from the Chevrolet Colorado.
No deputies or other persons were injured during the incident. No citizens have reported their vehicles being struck by bullets from when Yates was firing at other vehicles.
The investigation remains ongoing at this time.
Anyone with additional information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 540-829-7400 or email@example.com.