Marshall Cornelius Sentencing Hearing Pt2
In closing arguments during the sentencing hearing of Highland teen Marshall Cornelius for the 2017 shooting of his grandmother Ruth Knave, special prosecutor Charles Simmons acknowledged there was no evidence the stat could put forward that would change the minds of family and supporters, who believed the shooting was not intentional, but the reality is the evidence showed it was, and there was no evidence to support an accident. He mentioned the location and condition of the weapon when found, with safety on, one shell casing found nearby and no other bullets in the gun, bolt forward, and scope zoomed in to six power. He noted the theft of money and credit cards after the shooting, as well as attempts via a letter and writing on a wall to allude to a fake abduction attempt, as well as the drive to the Richmond airport, as indications that the defendant’s agenda was “not to get caught.” He referenced the short video clips, saying the court had seen the entirety of the video, which showed large stretches of time where the defendant was stoic and showed no emotion or interaction. He finished by saying the Alford plea was entered by the defense to concede responsibility, but evade punishment, and that the entering of the plea itself was evidence of malice.
Defense attorneys John Lichtenstein and Tony Anderson argued in their closing statement that the Alford plea maintains the defendant was not guilty of malice. They noted that no evidence was shown for animosity to the victim beforehand, and that his life was forever altered as result of the events of the shooting, and that evidence shows his life is markedly different before and after, and he has shown he accepts responsibility and shown remorse. They re-iterated his statement that he thought the safety was on, and the discharge was unintentional. They spoke to the sentencing guidelines, noting that they are based on similar cases with defendants, and are not necessarily indicative of a defendant’s age, and as someone with no prior criminal history, nor being “street wise”, an adult facility was not appropriate, and Virginia statute allowed for “blended sentences.” They pointed out the recommendations for continued psychiatric care, and asked that the sentence allow for that.
In rebuttal, Mr. Simmons noted the defense had not presented their sentencing recommendations, which he clarified to be home arrest and community service. He pointed out that the 16 months of evaluative study of the defendant consisted only of responses from the defendant and his family, and nowhere in any of the pre-sentencing reports was evidence of how the shooting was accidental – that the defense’s only explanation was “trust us.”, and the evidence showed otherwise.
The defendant then read a statement from his letter to the court, which expressed his love for his family, including the victim, the fact that the shooting was unintentional and he is sickened by it, but he took the Alford plea to show he accepted responsibility.
Before handing out the sentence, Judge Wetsel admonished the courtroom against emotional outbursts. He acknowledged the divided nature of the family, and that no sentence could please everyone. He said he found the defendant pleasant and intelligent, and perhaps while assertions of this action being out of character and of remorse could be true, he found the claim that the shooting was unintentional to be unreliable, and that the sentence should reflect a need for respect for the law and justice. He did note that guidelines on sentencing were widely diverse, he found them helpful, and that his sentence of 20 years, with 10 years suspended fell short of the median recommendation.
After court recessed, prosecutor Simmons said that while it was not the sentence they had recommended, they respected the court’s decision. Defense attorneys were attending to details with the family, and did not have time to provide a statement, but did offer to at a later time.