Alexandria prosecutors allowed a 25-year-old cemetery worker to plead guilty yesterday to one count of burglary, saying they could not press more serious charges against him because the 89-year-old woman he was accused of assaulting died of congestive heart failure a month after she was attacked.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Randoph Myers said he was satisfied with the plea agreement in Alexandria Circuit Court because "it guaranteed a conviction in a very difficult case."
John E. McDaniel of Alexandria was charged with burglary, robbery and attempting to rape Ada Belle Allan in a widely publicized Jan. 26 incident that led to the disciplining of four police officers for mishandling her late night telephone call for help.
Commonwealth's Attorney John E. Kloch said that his office was unable to prosecute McDaniel on most of the charges because of his constitutional right to be confronted by his accuser. Allan's testimony had been the basis of the charges, he said.
Allan, who told a friend that she had cried, "Oh my God help me," throughout her two-hour ordeal, had given police an account of the assault before she died Feb. 21, but Kloch said he could not use it in court.
The burglary charge to which McDaniel pleaded guilty carries a penalty of five to 20 years in prison, and prosecutors said that under Virginia law McDaniel will be eligible for parole in five years even if he receives the maximum penalty at his sentencing Aug. 13.
McDaniel, who was on probation for burglarizing an elementary school in Alexandria at the time of the assault, had faced a maximum of life imprisonment on the charges that were dismissed yesterday.
Prosecutor Myers said yesterday McDaniel had stolen $10 from a grocery bag in Allan's house, the crime to which he pleaded guilty.
Allan had no local relatives and none of her friends was in the third-floor courtroom when Judge Albert B. Swersky accepted McDaniel's plea without comment.
"Of course, we'd like to have someone who did this to a little old lady put away and out of harm's distance for a long time," said Theresa Maybury, a volunteer counselor at Alexandria's Victims Assistance Program. "But under the circumstances, nothing else could be done."
The Allan incident led Acting City Manager Vola Lawson to order several major changes in the Public Safety Department, including a review of police dispatching procedures, a new program for the emergency communications staff and additional training for patrol officers.
Allan had to call police a second time at 6:21 a.m. after officers went to the wrong address following her first call three hours earlier. Police arrived shortly after the second call to investigate.
Myers said in court that McDaniel had tried three separate entrances and broke three different windows before he got into Allan's home because she had deadbolt locks on her windows and a door. After he entered through a side porch window, police said he stayed two hours searching for money and repeatedly threatened to harm her sexually.