It’s been 67 years since Loudoun County sought the death penalty against anyone. It appeared that streak was coming to an end when Loudoun prosecutors charged Robert E. Roy with capital murder a couple of years ago for the 2001 slaying of a Purcellville man during a home invasion robbery.
But the streak will remain intact, at least for now. With Roy’s trial approaching in October, Loudoun prosecutors have filed a motion to amend the charge to first-degree murder and take death off the table. The motion, by Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney James Fisher, gives a new insight into why the change was made: investigators apparently believe another suspect was involved in the slaying. They therefore face the obstacle of Virginia’s always confusing and controversial “triggerman” statute, which holds that only the person who actually pulls the trigger--not any co-conspirators--can be convicted of capital murder. (D.C.-area sniper John Allen Muhammad was given the death penalty in Prince William County despite not actually pulling the trigger, but let’s not get into that just now.)
Roy is accused of entering the Route 9 home of Patrick B. Hornbaker, 32, and shooting him in the head on May 21, 2001, for the purposes of stealing money and drugs. Now, apparently, prosecutors think a second person was involved, and they may be seeking Roy’s cooperation to help find that individual.
The Loudoun Times-Mirror first reported the prosecution’s change of heart, and in an earlier story they outlined the last Loudoun death case, the slaying of the Love family in Purcellville in 1943. That defendant, William Clatterbuck, was executed the following year. Appeals were different back then.
Speaking of executions, here is The Post’s own database of executions in Virginia dating back to 1982. The total currently stands at 110.