An Alexandria jury capped the long saga of a Norfolk judge turned criminal defendant by finding him guilty of unlawfully wounding the state lawmaker who had once been his chief patron.
The jury convicted Luther C. Edmonds, 57, of two felonies, unlawful wounding and unlawfully wearing a mask. But jurors rejected the more serious charge that he had acted maliciously when he pistol-whipped Del. William P. Robinson Jr. (D-Norfolk). They also found him not guilty of unlawfully using a firearm.
The jury's choices reduced Edmonds's potential sentence to a range of no time at all to 10 years in prison. He had once faced up to 28 years in prison. The panel of seven women and five men will return to recommend a sentence today.
Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert praised the jurors, who deliberated 9 1/2 hours over two days and at one point told Circuit Court Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. that they were deadlocked. "I'm pleased. It's obvious the jury struggled with the case and came up with a compromise," Ebert said.
But Edmonds's attorney, Andrew M. Sacks, attacked the decision as "illogical and inconsistent. . . . If it was returned for the sake of having a verdict, it lays the grounds for an appeal."
The trial stemmed from a Dec. 27, 1997, attack on Robinson, who had sponsored Edmonds to be a judge but later told the news media that his former protege had been hearing cases involving Edmonds's girlfriend, a bail bondswoman. A masked man lay in wait for Robinson outside his Norfolk office, pointed a gun at the delegate and then beat him about the head and shoulders.
The case was tried in Alexandria because a previous trial in Norfolk had ended in a racially split hung jury. In the first trial, all seven blacks voted for acquittal while the white jurors initially voted for conviction. The Alexandria jury is made up of 10 whites and two blacks.
The chief evidence against Edmonds came from his pistol. The state crime laboratory found blood inside the barrel that matched Robinson's DNA. But Robinson testified that he did not recognize the masked man who attacked him, and the defense argued that the blood could have gotten on the gun after police seized it.
The guilty verdict is yet another twist in the life story of Edmonds, who was born into poverty, one of 21 children, and rose to become a Norfolk Circuit Court judge. Three years ago, he resigned while under investigation for misconduct.
Ebert urged a stiff sentence. "This is a horrible crime," he said. "If anybody knew better, he did. . . . Let the word go out that there's nobody too big for the law."
Sacks asked for just a fine. "These are somewhat unusual verdicts," Sacks said. "There must be some doubt, some conflict. If there is doubt and disagreement on just what happened, how can we send this man to the penitentiary?"