MacArthur sentenced on arson charges
Amy Grigsby Dodson of Sperryville stood tearfully before Rappahannock County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker on Monday (May 14), prepared to serve 60 days in jail for the embezzlement of tens of thousands of dollars from the Rappahannock Schools Sports Association (RCSSA) during her months as treasurer of the nonprofit last year. A restitution check for $25,000 had also been signed and would be handed over to RCSSA president Amy Burnett that morning if Parker accepted the Commonwealth’s plea recommendation.
In exchange for suspended prison sentences on felony charges and 60 days in jail (on a misdemeanor related to an $80 Walmart purchase) and $25,000 in restitution – an agreement reached between Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff and defense attorney Douglas Baumgardner – Dodson pleaded guilty to seven felonies and a misdemeanor in circuit court March 12, and the case was continued until this week.
Monday morning, Judge Parker announced quickly that he was rejecting the plea agreement, and told the 34-year-old defendant that she had the right to withdraw her guilty pleas and have the case brought before another judge. She has until next Tuesday (May 22) to decide whether to withdraw the pleas and have the case tried by another judge, or to proceed with Parker. Parker didn’t give an explanation for rejecting the agreement.
If Dodson decides to continue the case with Parker, her sentence would be the judge’s decision – or his decision to negotiate a new agreement.
The charges grew out of a Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office investigation that began Feb. 6, when former RCSSA president Amy Hitt called the Sheriff’s Office to report that money was missing from the nonprofit youth sports organization’s accounts at Union First Market Bank in Washington; their $15,000 credit line had also been maxed out.
“This is an important decision,” Baumgardner said to Parker while a date was found for the next hearing, “and I want to make sure she’s counseled in the proper fashion . . . though we would want to do this as quickly as possible.”
Burnett, who attended the hearing with her husband, said in an email Tuesday that she was disappointed that Judge Parker rejected the plea agreement, though she thought “he must have had his reasons.”
“I had hoped to make a nice deposit back into the RCSSA bank account that afternoon so we could move forward and pay off the debts [Dodson] left us with,” Burnett said, listing $15,000 on the RCSSA line of credit, $7,000 owed to vendors, and adding that she’d hoped to use some of the residual for gym improvements that the Rappahannock Youth Basketball League wanted to make with the $2,500 Dodson transferred out of its account (which RCSSA managed). “I have to continue to have faith in the legal system, though, and hope that next week’s day in court – and whatever days follow after that – turn out favorably for our organization and for the kids we support.”
During a court recess, Goff said that he did not foresee Parker’s action. “The trouble with Parker rejecting the plea is that RCSSA doesn’t get that check for $25,000 today,” he said. He noted that the $25,000 for restitution was contingent upon the plea being accepted, and that he had discussed with Burnett the details of transferring the funds immediately before the hearing.
In a discussion with Parker after court, while he would not comment on his reasons for rejecting Goff’s plea deal, he did say that public opinion – what some community residents were calling a “soft” plea deal – did not weigh into his decision.
Sheriff Connie C. Smith said after the court session that she could not recall any plea recommendations from the Commonwealth’s Attorney being rejected during her years with the Sheriff’s Office. Goff said he’d only seen a sentencing recommendation rejected once, in a Page County sex abuse case.
After Dodson’s plea recommendation was rejected, 20-year-old Cameron MacArthur was brought before the bench in shackles, awaiting sentencing. His two attorneys and both parents seemed noticeably worried about Parker accepting the youth’s plea deal. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s recommendation would send MacArthur to local jail for three-and-a-half years – a sentence that would prevent state prison time, offered in exchange for testimony against the three other co-defendants in the Grand View arson case.
On Aug. 20, MacArthur and three other teenage Rappahannock boys broke into the Grand View Road weekend cabin of William Rowland, stole beer, drank whiskey and partied in an upstairs bedroom before deciding to burn the place down to destroy any evidence of their presence. When the smoke cleared, only a chimney stood and four boys were in RCSO custody following an early-morning manhunt. The fire caused an estimated $295,000 in damage.
“Mr. MacArthur has been completely and totally cooperative with his and the other cases,” Goff told Parker, addressing MacArthur’s promise to testify in court against all of the co-defendants in the Grand View case, as well as statements he made to Goff and investigator Capt. J.C. Welch in a Jan. 6 recorded interview. So far, Erick Xavier Rodriguez of Boston and Benjamin Thomas Hale of Castleton have pleaded guilty to seven charges each in the arson case; only Julious Caesar Lucas of Boston awaits trial (though his attorney expects to have reached a plea agreement by then).
MacArthur appeared before the court in a white t-shirt with “Trustee” stenciled across the shoulders in thick black, and wore white elastic-banded pants and tennis shoes. One of his attorneys told Parker that MacArthur is one class away from receiving his high school diploma. He only has to finish a history class; RCHS teacher Mark Ramey has been coming to the Rappahannock County Jail each week to lecture him.
Before Parker ruled on Goff’s sentencing recommendation, MacArthur was allowed to make a statement to the court: “I accept responsibility for what I did, and I’d like to apologize to the homeowner for his loss.”
Before accepting the plea agreement, Parker said that he would have gone with the restorative justice program in this case had it been his choice. But he accepted the terms of the agreement and sentenced MacArthur to three-and-a-half years of active incarceration in Rappahannock Jail on the arson charge, with a total of more than 21 years of prison time suspended for the seven charges.
Upon release, MacArthur will have 10 years of supervised probation and owes $295,000 in restitution. As a condition of the plea agreement, MacArthur will be eligible for a work release program while at Rappahannock’s jail.
MacArthur grinned as he turned to walk out of the courtroom, looked up at his parents and shook his head one time.
After the sentencing, Sheriff Connie Smith said she recently started MacArthur at work in the jail kitchen. “He’s already giving back to the community, our community, and I like that.”
Also in circuit court, 21-year-old Shane Dillon Herndon of Rixeyville pleaded guilty to grand larceny. According to Goff’s evidence summary following the plea, on Dec. 29, Herndon and a co-defendant removed a four-wheeler and dirt bike (owned by Donald Southard) from 24 Southard Lane in Castleton. Goff said both vehicles were valued at $2,300, and that Herndon tried to sell them in Culpeper. When confronted by the police, Herndon allegedly confessed in a written statement that they stole the vehicles for cash.