Horan Faces Final Day in Office

Robert F. Horan Jr., chief prosecutor, is making his exit after 40 years in office but will return next year to retry a murder case that ended in a mistrial.
Robert F. Horan Jr., chief prosecutor, is making his exit after 40 years in office but will return next year to retry a murder case that ended in a mistrial. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 21, 2007

He has one more court date this morning, a brief procedural hearing, as Fairfax County's chief prosecutor. And then Robert F. Horan Jr. will spend his final day in office before retiring after 40 years as commonwealth's attorney of Virginia's largest county.

No formal ceremonies are planned to honor Horan, 74, and it's not exactly the end of his days in the Fairfax County courthouse. If his chief deputy, Raymond F. Morrogh, is elected to the job in November, Horan (D) plans to return next year and retry a murder case that ended in a mistrial in July.

But beyond that? "I have no idea," Horan said. He said he had promised his wife that he would accompany her on a trip to Mexico this month, which necessitated his prompt evacuation of the corner office he has held longer than any other currently serving Virginia prosecutor.

Horan's retirement today automatically elevates Morrogh to the post of acting commonwealth's attorney. He will be sworn in Monday at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 5E of the courthouse.

Morrogh, 50, then becomes the incumbent in his race against Republican Patrick A. McDade, 35, an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Arlington County. McDade entered the race at the last minute, filing his petitions shortly before the April deadline, after Horan announced that he would not seek another term just three days before the filing deadline.

McDade has attacked the current prosecutor's office as understaffed and too willing to plea bargain.

Morrogh has significantly outraised McDade in campaign funding, according to reports filed this week. As of Aug. 31, Morrogh had raised $76,675 and still had $41,487 on hand. McDade had raised $39,770 and had $4,001 available.

Horan himself tossed $1,000 into Morrogh's hat, and he has been making campaign appearances on Morrogh's behalf. He said he probably will do more of that in his free time.

Horan's name will permanently grace a national prosecutor's award. The state prosecutors association recognizes one of its members every year with the Robert F. Horan Jr. Award, created in 1988.

But recently, the National District Attorneys Association created the Horan-Maleng Award, named after Horan and Norman K. Maleng, the recently deceased prosecutor in Seattle. Horan said his colleagues advised him, however, "If I come back next year wearing a ponytail and working as a defense lawyer, they're voting to take my name off."

The way Horan originally plotted it, he would finish his career with one final murder case, the rape-murder trial of Alfredo R. Prieto in the slayings of two people near Reston in December 1988. Horan and others working on the case anticipated verdicts in July, a sentencing in late summer or early fall and then the trip into the Mexican sunset.

Horan and Morrogh successfully won convictions of Prieto in June. But during the sentencing phase, a juror revolted and claimed he'd been pressured by jurors into a guilty vote and was being pressured in the next stage. The lawyers and Chief Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Smith reluctantly agreed that a mistrial was the only choice, and the six-week trial was wiped away.

A new trial date was set for January, and Morrogh said he would ask Horan to return as a special prosecutor if Morrogh wins election. Horan immediately agreed.

But Prieto also faces a murder charge in Arlington County, in another slaying there in 1988, and he was arraigned there last week. A trial date was set for Dec. 3, Arlington Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Theo Stamos said yesterday. If the Arlington case proceeds in December, a January date in Fairfax would be unlikely.

Prieto's Fairfax case is set for a status hearing next week before Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows, who has taken over the case from Smith.

Horan said he has mixed emotions about leaving a job that some thought he would stay in, well, until he physically couldn't.

"It's like the guy said," Horan noted, " 'When you're doing something you love, you never work for a living.' I still feel that way about it. It's tough to think about changing habits."

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