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Former Culpeper town police officer Harmon-Wright found guilty

After nine hours of deliberation the jury found former town police officer 33-year-old Daniel Harmon-Wright guilty on three counts.

Harmon-Wright was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, unlawfully shooting into an occupied vehicle and involuntary manslaughter shooting into an occupied vehicle that resulted in death.

He was found not guilty of the use of a fireman in commission of a felony.

Harmon-Wright has been out on bail since last June as he awaited trail in the fatal shooting of Patricia A. Cook on the morning of Feb. 9, 2012.

Now on day six of the trial that began last Tuesday, Harmon-Wright sat next to his attorney Daniel Hawes as he awaited the verdict which was announced at 4:13 p.m. Tuesday afternoon .

One juror wept as did Harmon-Wright's wife when the three guilty verdicts were read.

With the jury dismissed, handcuffed and with his head down, Harmon-Wright was taken into custody escorted by three Culpeper County Sheriff's deputies to the Culpeper County jail which is a short distance from the courthouse.

Harmon-Wright's defense attorney Daniel Hawes was seen leaving the building, going directly to his car and driving away. He did not wish to comment to the press.

Special prosecutor Jim Fisher did offer comments.

“I am very satisfied that the citizens have spoken in this case,” said Fisher referring to the special grand jury that was convened last May as well as the impaneled jury who ultimately delivered the verdict.

One of the counts against Harmon-Wright was murder. Jurors could have elected murder in the first degree, second degree or voluntary manslaughter.
Their decision to go with voluntary manslaughter rather than a stiffer verdict did not upset Fisher.

“The grade of homicide was their decision...this is a unique situation where a police officer clearly stepped out of line and needs to be held accountable...I'm not upset at all with the final verdict...I stand by their decision.”

“This act was unjustified and it's important to reinforce the message with appropriate penalties,” added Fisher.

Harmon-Wright faces a maximum penalty of 25 years.

Fisher also pointed out that the judge could impose a fee.

“It's up to the judge to do the fair thing,” said Fisher.

Throughout the six-day trial, Harmon-Wright was surrounded by family sitting silently in the benches behind him.

Patricia Cook's brother John Weigler traveled from New Jersey to attend the trial. It is anticipated that Weigler will continue with the civil suit originally filed by Cook's husband, Gary Cook, who died of natural causes on Sept. 12 – seven months after the death of his wife.

Weigler, in a televised interview with Channel 9, stated that he felt the trial was being handled fairly and that he wanted justice for his sister.

The jury will return Wednesday at 1 p.m. for the sentencing portion of the case.

Local officials react to verdict

The fatal shooting of Patricia A. Cook, a Culpeper resident, rocked the community when the incident occurred. For many months as the investigation by the Virginia State Police was being conducted, citizens expressed their angst by creating blogs to air their opinions and pressing town officials for answers.

Mayor Chip Coleman released this statement late Tuesday afternoon.

“The trial is over. The jury has spoken. The whole situation is a tragedy that gripped and, in some cases, divided our community.

We asked for an independent and unbiased investigation into the shooting. The Virginia State Police professionally conducted that investigation. We thank them for their efforts.

A special grand jury listened to evidence and returned indictments against the former Culpeper police officer.

A special prosecutor, without ties to Culpeper, prosecuted the case. Witnesses testified and the jury rendered a verdict.

That is what we as town government asked for, and that is what we got. The system worked.

Now is the time to start the healing process. The men and women of the Culpeper Police Department are hard working and should not be judged by the actions of a former officer.”

Harmon-Wright was initially put on administrative leave when the incident occurred in February of last year.

As the investigation continued, his status was changed to administrative leave without pay and ultimately to his being terminated from the police department on June 19, 2012.

Chief of Police Chris Jenkins also issued a statement late Tuesday.

“The outcome of the trial does not change our mission. We are still devoted to providing the best possible services to our community and in the best way possible.

This was a tragedy and a first for our community and this agency. We are all saddened by this event. We hurt too.

I want to personally thank all those citizens who showed their support during this trying time. It meant so much to our department to know that so many of our citizens did not negatively judge the entire department because of this incident.

The men and women of your police department stand ready to answer the call.”

Contact the writer at asherman@timespapers.com

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