Horan Weighs Retirement
Saturday, April 7, 2007
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., the state's longest-serving prosecutor, who has been a law enforcement fixture for 40 years and has tried some of the nation's highest-profile cases, is considering retirement as the deadline approaches next week for him to file for reelection.
Horan (D) is 74 and still prosecuting cases, including a double-murder death penalty trial set for next month. He has faced opposition in only two elections since 1975 and may not face any this year if he chooses to seek an 11th term.
"I'm seriously considering not doing it again," Horan said, but he declined to explain why. He then left town for the weekend to ponder his future.
If Horan does step down, it would be a historic moment for Fairfax. He has been the county's most visible presence in its two most notorious cases -- the 1997 trial of Mir Aimal Kasi for shootings outside the CIA and the trial of sniper Lee Boyd Malvo in 2003, both of which ended in convictions.
Horan's longtime chief deputy, Raymond F. Morrogh, has been considered Horan's logical successor. This week, Morrogh began trying to round up the necessary signatures to place his name on the ballot for the June 12 Democratic primary if Horan decides not to run. The filing deadline is Friday.
Morrogh said he would never challenge Horan and was happy to be Horan's chief deputy. But if Horan decides not to seek reelection, "I fully plan on running," Morrogh said. "It's always been my intention to do so, and I certainly am taking various steps to be ready."
No other candidate has declared an intention to run for the top prosecutor's job, although Horan has kept his political plans secret so far this year. If he decides not to run, it may encourage the Republicans, who last challenged him in 1995, to launch a candidate.
Several Fairfax County Republican officials did not return calls seeking comment last night.
Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said he would welcome Morrogh to the Democratic ticket if Horan decides not to run. Connolly recently announced that he would seek a second term.
"If Bob Horan leaves, Ray Morrogh will hit the ground running," Connolly said. "He's highly respected and a well-regarded professional around the courthouse."
Connolly lauded Horan's achievements and stature in the legal community. He is often called "the dean of prosecutors" in Virginia, and in 2003 he was given the first lifetime achievement award by the National District Attorneys Association.
He has been largely successful in the cases he has chosen to handle personally. In 1976, he won the conviction of James Leroy Breeden in the slayings of four people inside a Roy Rogers restaurant in the Landmark area. In 1991, he won the case against Caleb Hughes, who was convicted of abducting 5-year-old Melissa Brannen even though the girl was never found.
Kasi was executed in the CIA killings -- a case that generated worldwide attention.
Although Malvo was convicted in the sniper case in 2003, a jury in Chesapeake went against Horan and declined to sentence Malvo to death. And the next year, when Horan sought to prosecute John Allen Muhammad for the same crimes, a Fairfax judge dismissed the case because Muhammad's right to a speedy trial had been violated. Muhammad already had been sentenced to death in a sniper killing in Prince William County.
Horan has not been immune to criticism, but it has never swayed him. In his 40 years, he has never charged a police officer with a crime committed while on duty. The NAACP demonstrated when Horan declined to prosecute Prince George's County Police Cpl. Carlton Jones, who mistakenly followed and then shot an unarmed man, Prince Jones, in the back in the Falls Church area in 2000. Prince Jones's family later won a wrongful death suit against the officer. Horan also was widely criticized for declining to prosecute Fairfax Officer Deval V. Bullock, who shot and killed an unarmed suspect, Salvatore J. Culosi, last year in what Horan said was an accidental shooting.
More recently, a former administrative assistant in Horan's office was convicted of erasing a man's drunken driving conviction. Horan noted that the assistant, Cecilia Ruiz, did not supervise anyone or have an important role in his office and that his office first "blew the whistle" that led to Ruiz's investigation and arrest.