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Jury recommends three years confinement for Harmon-Wright in fatal shooting of Culpeper woman

The eight day trial of Daniel Harmon-Wright is over.

Found guilty on three counts, one of them murder, the 12-member jury recommended that 33-year-old Daniel Harmon-Wright face three years of imprisonment for the fatal shooting of Patricia A. Cook on Feb. 9, 2012.

In Virginia, if found guilty of a felony conviction you are not eligible for parole. He also loses his voting rights.

The verdict was announced a little after 2 p.m. Friday after the jury deliberated for a little over three hours.

Harmon-Wright faced a maximum sentence of 25 years for the three counts.

In each count, the jury opted for a 12-month period of confinement totaling 36 months or three years.

On the first count of murder, they found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter which carries a 1-10 year period of confinement under Virginia law.

On the second count of malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, they found him guilty. Under Virginia law, the penalty spans from 1-5 years.

On the third count, Harmon-Wright was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle that resulted in death.
That penalty carries a 1-10 year period of confinement.

Judge Whitlock had also instructed the jury that they could impose a fine of not more than $2,500 for each count. They did not do this.

Motion for mistrial denied

Earlier that morning, the motion by defense attorney Daniel Hawes for a mistrial based on jury misconduct was denied by Judge Whitlock.

Two dictionaries and a thesaurus found in the jury room late Tuesday night had jurors brought in separately and questioned Wednesday afternoon by Judge Whitlock, special prosecutor Jim Fisher and defense attorney Daniel Hawes.

Jurors had been instructed not to use outside research materials in reaching their verdict.

While Judge Whitlock determined that there had been jury misconduct, was that misconduct prejudicial.

Bookmarked words included 'malice,' 'murder,' and 'lawless.'

All jurors testified that reaching their verdict had been based on the judge's instructions. For those who heard or read definitions of those words, it served as clarification and resolved doubt about which direction they would take – ultimately deciding on voluntary manslaughter rather than first or second degree in the murder charge.

The judge stated that the jury was properly instructed and that the jury was not prejudicial to the defendant.

She denied the motion and the sentencing portion of the trial proceeded.

Final voices for the defense

Harmon-Wright took the stand telling his story of a young man recently back from Iraq where he served with the Marines. He had been employed working for his father-in-law in California on the construction of Rose Bowl floats.

He missed the service but did not want to return to military life. He wondered how he could continue serving his community. His mother told him of an opening in the Culpeper Town Police Department.

For Harmon-Wright it was a new beginning, a chance to return to Virginia and build his career and family.

After the events on the morning of Feb. 9, 2012 when Harmon-Wright encountered Patricia Cook parked in the annex of Epiphany Catholic School, his world unalterably changed.

An exchange of words quickly escalated to gunfire leaving 54-year-old Cook dead. Cook was unarmed at the time. However, defense attorney Hawes maintained that her vehicle was used as a weapon.

“That day was horrible,” said Harmon-Wright adding, “I hope that none of my friends in law enforcement ever have to experience that.”

For Harmon-Wright, choosing to be a policeman is now something he wouldn't consider again. He was a five year veteran of the Culpeper Town Police Department.

“I was so afraid that I would die,” he sighed telling the jurors that he has lived with this “every waking second of every day.”

Terminated from the Culpeper Police Department and with his career crushed, Harmon-Wright said that he has been depressed and anxiety ridden. He has not been able to provide for his wife and son.

“This is never going to go away for me.”

Brendan King has known Harmon-Wright for 10 years. They served together in Iraq and it was King who suggested to Harmon-Wright that perhaps a career in law enforcement could prove a satisfying path.

Tearfully, King testified about their eight months together in Iraq and how they later joined the reserves. He recounted a number of situations they found themselves in where aggressive action could have outweighed their better judgment. In those instances, Harmon-Wright's integrity and professionalism prevailed according to King.

King told the jurors that Harmon-Wright contacted him shortly after the events of Feb. 9.

“He was upset, visibly shaken and felt that he could have done nothing differently,” said King. “I believed him.”

Harmon-Wright's cousin, Joe Graves, works as a Facebook technician in Ashburn.

Graves spoke in detail about the restrictions on Harmon-Wright's life for the past eight months.

“He has had a curfew, he wears an ankle bracelet and has to blow into a breathalyser every morning,” said Graves.

“He tries to stay motivated, to do everything he can, and to try to provide for his family...it's a painful thing to watch.”

“We've lost everything,” said an emotional Dyanne Wright, Harmon-Wright's wife, who has been staying with family in California along with their now 17-month-old son.

“Our savings, life insurance...it's been devastating...he lost his job...he won't be able to serve his country again...something very important to him.”

Hawes stressed to the jurors that Harmon-Wright believed he was doing the right thing.

“If faced with that situation again, he would opt to protect the public again,” said Hawes. “He was faced with a horrible choice.”

“What was her bizarre behavior about that day?”

“She hadn't kidnapped a child from the school or robbed a bank... he doesn't know why she's leaving but felt it necessary to stop her.”

“He's supposed to be the good guy...his mission and intent is to protect the public...nobody can punish him more than he is punishing himself.”

“We ask them [policemen] to defend us,” pleaded Hawes, “all we're going to get is the bottom of the barrel if this kind of thing is going to happen to police officers.”

Hawes urged leniency and for the jurors to look at the lesser end of the spectrum in their final deliberations as to sentencing.

Final voice for the deceased

Fauquier Commonwealth's attorney Jim Fisher served as special prosecutor for this trial.

After listening to the witnesses share their sentiments on the defendant's behalf, Fisher explained to the jury that during this phase of the trial the prosecution was restricted in what they could present.

Documentation attesting to Harmon-Wright's performance while serving in the military was not allowed to be submitted.

Throughout the process he has reminded jurors that they would be presented with evidence sufficient to find Harmon-Wright guilty.

“You've found him guilty,” said Fisher. “It is now your judgment to decide on a range of sentences.”

Fisher advocated that the jury consider several aggravating factors that would persuade them to choose a penalty in the higher range of their choice.

On the top of Fisher's list was contriteness.

Fisher referred to the video played for the jurors when Harmon-Wright was interviewed only two hours after the incident by special agent Richard Shively of the Virginia State Police.

“We have not seen an ounce of genuine remorse,” stressed Fisher. “Throughout this trial, he continued to cling to the belief that he acted in self defense.”

“You rejected that by finding him guilty.”

Fisher felt another factor was Harmon-Wright's betrayal of trust. “He has put a black mark on an honorable profession,” said Fisher.

Another aggravating factor for Fisher was the relative innocence of the victim.

“She has been described by the defense as menacing, evil and bent on destruction,” said Fisher.

“She was sitting in a parking lot where she wasn't supposed to be...perhaps trespassing”...but, Fisher argued, certainly not an offense to be killed for.

“This was a brutal and vicious act,” emphasized Fisher recalling the seven shots that were fired at the vehicle, five hitting Patricia Cook and two proving fatal.

Harmon-Wright was found guilty on two counts of homicide. Fisher focused on the two fatal shots and the five others fired that day.

“This was a brutal extinguishment of human life.”

“The defendant wants to put this behind him and move on with his life,” said Fisher, “but Patricia Cook is dead...there are no more goals or dreams for her.”

“When the victim is dead, we know very little about them...they become abstract..a name on a piece of paper or the corner of an autopsy report...but she's not an abstract...her life was taken...I'd ask that you set a just verdict.”

Fisher encouraged the jurors to place a high value on the life of Patricia Cook and to think of that value in terms of years.

Fisher was emphatic.

“This was wrong...he abandoned his position..he said that she seemed odd...he lost it and he slaughtered her.”

“Patricia Cook may have been mentally fragile but the law is supposed to protect the most fragile among us,” said Fisher. “This sends the wrong message.”

Duty to serve

Judge Whitlock thanked the jurors for their service.

She also reminded them that they may be approached by members of the media or others with questions.

“This was a serious case...it is up to you whether you decide to speak about it...but think seriously about what you say.”

Harmon-Wright remains in custody with the Culpeper County Sheriff's Office.

Between now and final sentencing both attorneys will submit their opinions about sentencing instructions and the judge will have time to weigh in on the jury's decision.

Judge Whitlock may impose a lesser sentence but cannot increase it.

According to Fisher, she could impose a three-year period of parole beyond the three years of imprisonment.

Outside the courthouse, Fisher was immediately pressed for comments about the outcome of the jury's verdict.

Questioning by news reporters suggested that the sentencing recommendation “was not very harsh” and wondered how he felt about that.

“I am satisfied,” said Fisher. “this is a sad day really and a sobering one for the community.”

“From the beginning I wanted this to be a citizen-based process including the sentencing.”

“It has been from the 11 people that made up the special grand jury last May to the 12 jurors who have spoken,” said Fisher.

Fisher in his closing remarks before the jury went into deliberations said that he was speaking for the deceased since she wasn't here to speak for herself nor was her husband.

Gary Cook was found dead in September 2012 from apparent natural causes.

“I argued forcefully and zealously in advocacy for her,” said Fisher, “but the final decision is left to the jury.”

Fisher felt that the trial was transparent, fair and above board.

“It's just a sad day,” concluded Fisher. “A woman has lost her life. A young man has lost his career and liberty.”

“Now, the healing process needs to begin for the community.”

Final sentencing is scheduled for April 10.

Contact the writer at asherman@timespapers.com

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