Approaching 6 p.m. after nearly five hours of testimony in Warren County Supervisor Tom Sayre’s defamation of character civil suit against former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald Friday afternoon, Winchester-based Judge Ian Williams continued the trial to September 11 at 1:15 p.m. Sayre attorney Tim Bosson said he anticipated his client testifying for a half hour to 45 minutes that day, with a similar time frame anticipated in cross examination by McDonald attorney Lee Berlik.
Berlik also told the court he may call his client to testify on her own behalf that day. If he so chooses it is likely to result in more testimony than McDonald offered when she was called shortly after 1 p.m. Friday as the first witness for the plaintiff. It seems that the first thing that occurred when McDonald walked out of the RSW Jail on bond after two months in jail on Wednesday was the serving of a witness subpoena on behalf of the plaintiff.
When she was called to testify by Sayre’s attorney, Berlik alerted the court that “any and all questions relating to the EDA” would be met by his client’s right to assert her Fifth Amendment right not to self incriminate.
McDonald and her two real estate LLC’s are named as three of nine human and LLC defendants in the EDA civil litigation seeking recovery of about $20 million in allegedly embezzled or misdirected EDA assets. She is also facing 14 felony criminal charges handed down by the special grand jury empanelled to investigate potential criminality related to the Cherry Bekaert EDA fraud investigation and consequent civil suit filed March 26.
McDonald wasted no time in asserting her Fifth Amendment right. At least five out of the eight questions asked of her were negated by McDonald’s plea of the Fifth. Judge Williams upheld McDonald’s Fifth Amendment responses.
Questions she did respond to included confirming her December 2018 resignation as EDA executive director; an assertion that an old personal assets statement was outdated; and verification that text and email messages dated between June 6 and July 14, 2017 were actual communications between her and Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini. Those texts and emails were introduced as plaintiff’s Exhibits 3 and 4. They were exhibits that would significantly come into play during later testimony.
In asserting the plaintiff’s claim for $25,000 in damages for defamation of character Sayre attorney Tim Bosson called a series of witnesses to illustrate that McDonald had spread the idea of his client’s involvement in both the EDA office break in of May 18, 2017, and a series of trespass and vandalism incidents alleged to be occurring at her home property through May and June of that year.
To a great extent those witnesses and their testimony revolved around the content of a note found at the scene of the vandalism McDonald reported occurring around 9 p.m., Thursday, June 15. According to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office investigative report, McDonald pointed out a crumpled piece of paper in her yard she indicated was not there earlier in the day when she cleaned her yard.
The note mentions several names and instructions to conduct an effort to terrorize McDonald that appears to include the EDA office break in McDonald reported on May 18, 2017, and continuing through a series of events at her home property. The names “Tom” and “Matt” appear on the note, as well as “the Examiner” where “Norma Jean” was purported to have been waiting for files McDonald reported being stolen during the May 18 EDA office break in about a month before the purported home rock-throwing vandalism.
Two phone numbers of alleged participants in the conspiracy are also present at the bottom of the note. They turned out to be the business numbers of Sayre and former Town Manager Michael Graham.
As they did at McDonald’s 2018 Halloween Day false police report misdemeanor trial, Shaw and Graham both testified they knew nothing of the note or its alleged conspiracy, as Sayre is likely to on September 11. And while Warren County General District Judge W. Dale Houff dismissed the false police report case against McDonald last year, he did observe of the note that “something is made up and something is horribly wrong with this”.
There was also something apparently terribly wrong about a story Royal Examiner reporter Roger Bianchini testified McDonald told him several weeks later about identifying a suspect in the masonry stone vandalism of June 15, 2017. The Royal Examiner reporter said that in late June or early July 2017 McDonald said that while several security cameras on her property had been vandalized during earlier trespasses, one less obtrusive one near her front door had remained in tact.
That camera recorded a facial image of the suspect, whom her private investigator had eventually identified as a petty criminal type and former client of Tom Sayre’s law practice. One of McDonald’s emails to Bianchini, dated July 14, 2017 appeared to verify Bianchini’s testimony.
“He talked with PI and PI has asked him to wire himself and go talk to the culprit. we do not want a he said/she said situation,” McDonald emailed in response to Bianchini’s query, “Anything good to report” about the investigation into the vandalism.
“So he admitted to his own Russia collusion – who is his ‘Putin’ pulling the strings?!!? … and is it a lone wolf or multiple Putins,” Bianchini responded about the masterminds of alleged conspiracy against her.
“He did and multiple putins, but the first putin asked him to do it,” McDonald replies.
“Is the first Putin our photo boy?” Bianchini inquires.
“Yes sir,” McDonald replies ending the e-conversation of July 14, 2017.
On direct examination Bianchini explained the “photo boy” reference related to an earlier, June 11, 2017 text from McDonald: “May have a tip that an elected official is in cahoots with what is happening to me,” McDonald texted.
“Someone I have been trying to find photos of for you,” McDonald added in response to a request for an “off the record” clue as to an identity.
The only person Bianchini said he and McDonald had discussed acquiring a photo of from local newspaper archives dating to 1989-90 was Tom Sayre around the time he arrived in this area sporting what Bianchini described as a radically-different look.
Private Investigator Ken Pullen was asked about McDonald’s representations about a suspect requested to wear a wire on Sayre in discussion about the plot against McDonald. Pullen testified under direct examination by Sayre attorney Bosson that he had initially been hired by the EDA Board of Directors around June 6, 2017 to investigate the EDA office break in. Drescher testified that McDonald asked her board to ask that FRPD be taken off the case because she did not feel comfortable with the direction of their investigation, which appeared to be moving toward the three EDA staffers with access to a key to the office since there was no sign of forced or unforced entry.
Drescher has previously said that the private investigator-driven investigation was eventually turned over to McDonald and encompassed events alleged to be occurring at her home.
Asked about McDonald’s June 11 text to Bianchini that there was evidence “an elected official is in cahoots with what is happening to me” and “No one else knows what is happening this is from my PI,” Pullen stated he had no such evidence.
“You didn’t tell her that?” Bosson asked.
“No,” Pullen replied.
Asked about the alleged effort to have a suspect wear a wire on a co-conspirator Bianchini believed McDonald had identified as Sayre, Pullen said, “No I had not,” adding, “I had no suspect – I did not have anyone wired up.”
If Sayre’s counsel focused on evidence indicating the former EDA executive director had spread his client’s name into the community as a suspect in criminal behavior targeting her, McDonald attorney Lee Berlik took a “no harm, no foul” line with plaintiff witnesses. He argued that the presence of Sayre’s phone number and name on the mysterious note had not meaningfully impacted the Shenandoah District supervisor’s reputation.
Repeatedly he asked plaintiff witnesses what they thought Sayre’s reputation in the community was and had it been damaged by the talk of his phone number’s presence on the note found at the site of the June 15, 2017 vandalism.
A number of witnesses, including Sayre’s fellow Supervisor Archie Fox, former Town Manager Michael Graham whose number was also found on the note, and former Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw said they thought Sayre’s reputation was a good one and not been terribly damaged by the talk of his involvement in a plot against McDonald.
Only Bianchini said he thought Sayre’s reputation varied widely depending on who in the community you talked to. But he also failed to say whether he believed that reputation had been damaged widely by the rumor of his participation in an alleged criminal targeting of McDonald.
Asked how many people he told about McDonald’s contention about Sayre’s number on the conspiracy note, Bianchini estimated five or less – his Royal Examiner associate Norma Jean Shaw and possibly Publisher Mike McCool, Michael Graham because of the (202) number, another local reporter using only the four 7’s as a clue, and a girlfriend to illustrate how crazy his job was getting.
Berlik made a point of noting to those others whose name or phone number was on the note that they had not filed a defamation suit over their being implicated in a fashion similar to Sayre’s.
Only Shaw, who along with “the Examiner” was cited as waiting for allegedly stolen material from the EDA office break in, replied that she had considered filing a defamation suit against
McDonald, but added, “I don’t think she has any more money and it would be a waste of time.”
And now there is a five-week wait for the dramatic conclusion of the first of dueling defamation lawsuits filed by Sayre and McDonald against each other – stay tuned for more developments …
Texas man sentenced on cyberstalking, making interstate threats
Editor’s note: this case relates to the spring of 2018 death of Apple Mountain 16-year-old Sarah Rose Genari, which was ruled a suicide. As previously reported, O’Dell had bragged online of being responsible for the girl’s death and then began threatening her family members under assumed social media aliases. Related Article
HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA – Adrian Raul O’Dell, an Odessa, Texas man, who had an online relationship with a juvenile female in the Western District of Virginia and later cyberstalked and made online threats to the girl’s family following her suicide, was sentenced today to 41 months in federal prison. Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar and David W. Archey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division made the announcement today.
O’Dell, 20, was charged in October of 2019 and arrested the following month at his home in Texas. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of cyberstalking and one count of making interstate threats.
“In today’s increasingly virtual world, where we live, work and learn online, this sentence demonstrates that if anyone uses these platforms to cyberstalk, harass and threaten others, we will hold them accountable,” Acting United States Attorney Bubar said today. “The FBI and Warren County Sheriff’s Office did an outstanding job in finding Mr. O’Dell and bringing him to justice in Virginia for his abhorrent actions. My office sends its deepest condolences to the family in this case, who lost a loved one, and hope they find some solace knowing justice was served.”
“The FBI is fully committed to investigating all forms of child exploitation, cyberstalking and online threats. We will pursue those responsible and bring them to justice,” said Special Agent in Charge David W. Archey. “Our hearts and thoughts are with the family through these difficult times.”
According to court documents, between September 2017 and around March 2018, O’Dell had an online relationship with a 16-year-old girl who lived in Linden, Virginia. In May 2018, following an investigation by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, it was determined that the girl died by suicide in a wooded area near her home.
From June 2018 through June 2019, O’Dell, using a variety of false email and online personas, took credit for her suicide. The defendant then sent threatening and intimidating messages to her family members and friends that placed them in reasonable fear of death and serious bodily harm. In addition, these messages attempted to cause friends and family members substantial emotional distress. The defendant sent certain of these messages in violation of a protective order.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Warren County Sherriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Kate Rumsey is prosecuting the case for the United States.
Three local men and juvenile charged with abduction by force, simple assault or battery by mob
On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, the Front Royal Police Department arrested four individuals for their involvement in an October 5th incident. Trevor James Lee Sutphin, 19, Hugo Orlando Nunez II, 22, and Luis Henrique Jose, 22, of Front Royal were charged with § 18.2-47 Abduction by Force and § 18.2-42 Simple Assault or Battery by Mob. An identified juvenile suspect also faces the same charges.
The charges are a result of an investigation that began when a recorded video surfaced of a visibly shaken adult male victim. During the video recording, the victim was forced to apologize to several people. Upon further investigation, it was determined the male was lured to an apartment within the Town of Front Royal where he was allegedly threatened and assaulted. The video was shared repeatedly on Snapchat.
The three adult suspects were arrested without incident and transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail where they were held without bond. Their first court appearance was scheduled for October 20, 2020, at 10:00 am in Warren County General District Court. The juvenile suspect charges will be heard in the Warren County Juvenile Court.
This investigation is ongoing and anyone with further information is asked to contact the Front Royal Police Detective Sergeant J.M. Winner at (540) 636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Front Royal man charged for embezzlement and possession of a controlled substance
On October 9, 2020, Front Royal Police arrested Barrington Allen Moore, 31, of Front Royal, for felony embezzlement and felony possession of a controlled substance. The alleged embezzlement occurred at Kentucky Fried Chicken, located at 807 John Marshall Highway. An investigation determined that over $1,000 had been stolen from the business between August and September of 2020.
Upon his arrest, a search of Moore’s person was conducted, and detectives located two bags of white powder reported by Moore to be “Molly”, a scheduled 1 narcotic. Moore was transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail where he is currently held on a $1,500 bond. A court date for these offenses is set for November 10, 2020, at 10:00 AM, in Warren County General District Court.
This investigation is ongoing and anyone with further information is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective L.J. Waller at (540) 636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Shooting on Jackson Street
On Wednesday, October 14, 2020, at approximately 8:40 pm, the Front Royal Police Department responded to a report of a shooting in the 100 block of W. Jackson Street. When officers arrived at the scene, they encountered a male, identified as Clarence Sheppard, 40, of Front Royal, with gunshot wounds to both legs. Sheppard disclosed that he was shot upon exiting his vehicle. The victim was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital and then transferred to Winchester Medical Center, where he received treatment for serious but non-life-threatening injuries. He has since been released from the hospital.
Witnesses stated there were possibly three male suspects all wearing hoodies to conceal their identity. Two of the suspects wore black hoodies and the third suspect wore a white hoodie with striped pants and white shoes. Officers searched the area and a subject was briefly detained in the 500 block of Virginia Avenue whose clothing matched the description given by witnesses.
This investigation is ongoing and anyone with any further information is asked to contact Front Royal Police Detective D.L. Fogle at (540) 636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two sentenced for roles in Maryland-to-Virginia heroin pipeline that resulted in fatal overdose
Two individuals connected with a heroin trafficking conspiracy that brought heroin from Maryland into Shenandoah County, Virginia, and caused one fatal and one non-fatal overdose were sentenced last week in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg. Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar and Jesse Fong, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Field Office made the announcement today.
James Harold Lichliter, 52, of Mauretown, Va., was sentenced to 144 months in federal prison. In a separate hearing, Jonathan Dale Neice, 42, of Woodstock, Va., was sentenced to 132 months incarceration.
Both Lichliter and Neice previously pleaded guilty to one count of distribution and possession with the intent to distribute resulting in the death of J.H. and the serious bodily injury of J.W. Co-defendants Craig Kidwell, Norma Kidwell, and Stacy Allen Marston are awaiting sentencing.
“The scourge of heroin is a deadly killer that does not discriminate. This office will do all it can to stem the tide and prosecute anyone who participates in its distribution in our communities,” Acting United States Attorney Bubar said today. “We will use all available resources and continue to closely partner with federal, state and local law enforcement to hold drug dealers like Lichliter and Neice, who seek to profit from this treacherous epidemic, responsible for their actions.”
According to court documents, beginning around June 2017 a Maryland-based drug-trafficking network began selling controlled substances to Virginia-based drug traffickers, who, in turn, transported those drugs to Shenandoah County for redistribution.
Defendants Craig Kidwell and his wife Norma Kidwell repeatedly traveled from their home in Shenandoah County to Maryland to obtain heroin from the Maryland-based drug-trafficking organization. At times, the heroin Craig Kidwell and Norma Kidwell obtained from their Maryland-based source was mixed with other drugs, such as fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl.
After obtaining heroin, Craig Kidwell and Norma Kidwell transported the drugs back to Shenandoah County where the drugs were redistributed to others, including, but not limited to, co-defendants Lichliter, Marston, and Neice, who redistributed the drugs to others around Shenandoah County.
As a direct result of the defendants’ drug distribution activities, two overdoses occurred, one of which resulted in the death of victim J.H.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Virginia State Police, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, and Woodstock Police Department with the assistance of the Shenandoah County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. Assistant United States Attorney Jeb Terrien is prosecuting the case for the United States.
Second continuance within a week in Tristen Brinklow murder cases
One of two men accused of murdering 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow in September 2019, then concealing and moving his body to a remote location near Diggs Landing in the Rivermont area of the county in a freezer where it was later discovered in a state of decomposition, was in Warren County Circuit Court Tuesday afternoon, October 13, by remote video hook up.
However, the scheduled 1:30 p.m. docket hearing of Richard Matthew Crouch, 35 at the time he was charged on December 31, 2019, along with a second defendant, George Lee Good, 28, was continued to November 9 on the 9 a.m. docket. Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell informed Judge William Sharp that several additional prosecution witnesses had been interviewed that defense counsel Howard Manheimer had yet had an opportunity to review transcripts or video of.
The Winchester-based Manheimer also asked the court to facilitate his client’s transfer from the Culpeper County Jail where is currently being held, to a jail closer to Winchester. Judge Sharp said he was not sure he had the authority to mandate such a transfer and asked Manheimer to research applicable codes to find such authority for him to order Crouch’s transfer to a facility closer to his attorney’s home base.
Speaking to media outside the courtroom following the brief hearing, Manheimer said he did not know why Crouch had been transferred to the Culpeper jail but noted that the distance from his Winchester office complicated communications with his client in preparation for moving forward on the four charges against Crouch, including First Degree Murder. His client also faces felony charges of Abduction by Force, Concealment of a Dead Body, and Physical Defilement of a Dead Body.
While Crouch and Good are initially facing identical charges in the Brinklow murder, their cases have been separated. Good’s charges remain in Warren County General District Court at this point, yet to be forwarded to the grand jury. A scheduled October 7th hearing in Good’s cases was continued to October 30, at 2 p.m., in General District Court.
As previously reported by Royal Examiner, files in the case date Brinklow’s murder to September 28-29, 2019. His body was discovered in the Rivermont area of southwestern Warren County just over two months later, on December 2. The body was not identified as Tristen Brinklow until December 16. Crouch and Good were charged for murder in the case on December 31. Both men were incarcerated without bond on unrelated violent crimes at the time the Warren County Sheriff’s Office brought the charges in the Brinklow case against them, Crouch at Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren County (RSW) Regional Jail and Good at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NRADC) in Frederick County.
Good was arrested in Frederick County at a DUI checkpoint on December 7. At the time he was wanted in connection with a non-fatal November 27 shooting on the 200 block of Cloud Street in a residential area adjacent to Front Royal’s Downtown Business District.
In that case, Good was charged with Malicious Shooting/Wounding, Use of a Firearm in the Commission of a Felony, and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, with Front Royal Police noting that further charges were likely forthcoming regarding “other involved individuals”. Other charges against Good include Possession of Schedule 1 or 2 drugs and Probation Violation.
Previous charges listed against Crouch on the RSW website include Possession with Intent to Distribute Schedule 1 or 2 drugs, six remaining strangulation charges of nine he was originally charged with, and Malicious Wounding: Stab or Cut with Malicious Intent.
In the criminal complaints against the men in the Brinklow murder case it is stated that after being informed of his Miranda Right not to self-incriminate, Crouch gave law enforcement officials a description of the circumstance of Brinklow’s death.
“Mathew (sic) Crouch stated that he and George Good physically assaulted and bound Tristan (sic) Brinklow in a residence, within Front Royal. He stated this assault led to the death of Brinklow. Crouch stated they placed Brinklow into a refrigerator and attempted to conceal the refrigerator at Digs Landing by placing vegetation on and around the refrigerator,” the criminal complaints state, adding, “Crouch provided information against his penal interests, while under Miranda Advisement, and provided information not known to the general public but was confirmed by evidence at the crime scene.”