|30-day sentence suspended; $500 fine imposed|
Monday, September 24, 2012
By KEN BRADLEY AND K.A. WAGONER - Staff Writers
Former Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt was found guilty Tuesday in district court of misfeasance of his public obligation for not issuing a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) in connection with the shooting death of Jennifer Agee on Memorial Day in May 2011.
"It's not what he did, it's what he didn't do," said retired General District Judge J.C. Quigley of Radford. "As the sheriff, he (Hunt) was the captain of the ship."
The judge agreed with special prosecutor Michael Doucette of Lynchburg's argument that Hunt should have immediately issued a BOLO instead of calling Salem police directly when he learned that former deputy Jonathon Agee was armed and possibly on his way to Salem, where Jennifer Agee, his ex-wife, lived.
Hunt was sentenced to 30 days with all the time suspended on the misdemeanor charge, and he was ordered to pay a $500 fine.
Misfeasance is defined in English law as a legal act that is performed improperly.
Defense attorney Bill Stanley immediately appealed the verdict to Franklin County Circuit Court. The new trial is set for Dec. 4.
Stanley argued that the entire case against Hunt was "Monday morning quarterbacking," stating that the prosecution presented "not one scintilla of evidence that demonstrates evil or corrupt intent in any of Hunt's actions on that day."
Under Common Law, which is defined as the ancient law of England based upon societal customs and recognized and enforced by the judgments and decrees of the courts, Stanley said the prosecution was required to prove evil or corrupt intent of Hunt's actions on that day.
"The commonwealth did not present one shred of evidence that Hunt acted for personal benefit or dishonestly," Stanley said. "A mere error does not constitute a criminal act without evil intent."
The prosecution's theory of Hunt's motive for not issuing a BOLO was that he was concerned about bad press.
"I don't think the sheriff (Hunt) wanted the end result to happen," Doucette said. "But his first priority should have been to get the word out."
Witnesses for the prosecution included dispatchers on duty at the sheriff's office, dispatchers from Salem and Roanoke, local law enforcement officers, law enforcement officers outside the county and Virginia State Police.
Special Agent Steve Oliver with the Virginia State Police testified that he interviewed Hunt on the evening of May 30, 2011, as part of the state police investigation in the case.
Oliver's testimony gave a time line of the calls that were made by Hunt and others through the dispatch office during the 24-minute ordeal that ended in Jennifer Agee's death and Jonathan Agee's apprehension by law enforcement officers.
Oliver said he has known Hunt for about 20 years through his law enforcement work. He said he knows Hunt to be honest and a dedicated police officer.
"I've never seen him upset," said Oliver. "He was always calm. He was a good cop."
During the trial, Doucette played a CD of the calls that came into the sheriff's office dispatch center during the incident.
Two county dispatchers said they did not call other law enforcement offices in Roanoke County, Roanoke or Salem because it was their understanding that Hunt had told them he would handle it.
However, the dispatchers did say that Hunt did not tell them not to contact other law enforcement agencies or put out a BOLO for Jonathan Agee.
One dispatcher said it was unwritten procedure going back to the time when W.Q. Overton was sheriff to not put out information to other law enforcement agencies or over the radio information unless ordered to do so by the sheriff.
One dispatcher testified that during the incident "a lot was going on and everything was happening very fast in the dispatch area. It was easy to misunderstand -- I don't know if mistakes were made at the time in dispatch."
Jonathan Agee was indicted by a Roanoke grand jury in August 2011 on counts of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in connection with the fatal shooting of his ex-wife Jennifer Agee, 30, of Salem at a Sheetz in Roanoke on May 30, 2011.
In Montgomery County, Agee is charged with attempted capital murder in connection with the shooting of Virginia State police Sgt. Matt Brannock, who was shot in the thigh during a car chase on I-81 followings the incident at Sheetz.