Marshall Cornelius Sentencing Hearing Pt. 1
The murder trial of 15 year old Marshall Cornelius came to an end in a packed Highland County courtroom on Thursday, January 17th. Cornelius had entered an Alford guilty plea of 2nd degree murder on September 25th, 2018 in the shooting death of his paternal grandmother Ruth Knave at the family home In Doe Hill In September of 2017. Judge John E. Wetsel Jr. imposed a sentence of 20 years in a penitentiary, with 10 years suspended, followed by 5 years supervised probation. Cornelius will be remanded to a juvenile facility until age 21, then transferred to an adult facility.
The prosecution called two witnesses in the sentencing hearing – Michelle Shank, parole and probation officer responsible for determining sentencing guidelines, which ranged from 12 to 24 years incarceration, with a median of 17 years; and the defendant’s uncle Douglas Cornelius, who spoke to the character and loss of Ms. Knave. He reported her husband was unable to attend the proceedings due to physical and emotional distress, and that admitting that while there was division among the family, some members wished to see the maximum sentence imposed, because while once a part of the family, Cornelius had crossed a line with the shooting, and was now a stranger.
The defense called 5 witnesses. First, was social worker Vicki Craft, who prepared the social background report for the hearing. She noted the defendant and family had followed all the dictates of home confinement, and that her assessment process had determined Cornelius was at the lowest risk level for re-offense, and had a high capability for rehabilitation with continued services given his strong support system. Her assessment recommended any time be served in juvenile facilities, as adult facilities were not rehabilitative in nature.
The defendant’s uncle Stewart Thomas and friend Andrew Stein testified to Cornelius’s positive character, describing his affection for and involvement with his family, including Ms. Knave, and the lack of any animosity towards her.
Professional counselor Dustin Wright, who testified via video, and psychologist David Scheiderer, both reported that they had found no evidence of violent or abhorrent behavior or mental disorders in their examination of the defendant. They both opined that Cornelius’ actions after the shooting, which included being apprehended at Richmond International Airport attempting to purchase a plane ticket after driving there with his father’s car, were indicative of the “fight or flight” response, exacerbated by the age of the defendant. They also agreed on a diagnosis of acute stress reaction/disorder after the shooting, which is now manifesting as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They believed that removing treatment for this would result in decompensation or deterioration.
The defense also played two short video clips from the body cam on the law enforcement officers at the airport which showed the defendant upset and weeping, as well as introducing a statement made to one of the officers that the gun had discharged while he was setting it down.
Stay tuned for part two of this report for closing arguments from both sides, and the opinions and decisions of the court.