An Arlington jury convicted GOP activist and lawyer Kevin Sabo yesterday of maliciously attempting to wound his ex-girlfriend by cutting the brake lines on her car and called for a sentence of 18 months in prison.

Circuit Court Judge Joanne F. Alper then ordered Sabo, 38, held without bond until sentencing Jan. 28. In overriding the objections of Sabo's attorney, Alper said Sabo should not get special treatment because he is a lawyer. Under Virginia law, a judge may decrease, but not increase, a jury's sentence.

After the jurors convicted Sabo of the felony charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Theo Stamos said it was up to them to decide the appropriate sentence. She said the fact that Sabo's ex-girlfriend, Heather Lawrence, was not injured when she crashed her car March 17 did not mean Sabo "should get a discount."

"We're talking about a human life when we talk about what happened to Heather Lawrence," Stamos told the jury. "It wasn't just Ms. Lawrence jeopardized by this," she said, noting that others could have been injured or killed if Lawrence had not been able to stop her car.

Lawrence was driving to work on Brookside Drive in Arlington when she realized she had no brakes. By turning her steering wheel sharply to the left, she was able to crash her 1997 Volkswagen Jetta into a fence and avoid barreling into the busy intersection at Washington Boulevard.

"A tremendous weight has been lifted," Lawrence, 28, said after the jury announced its verdict. "I haven't lived a normal life since this happened. I said on the stand that I just want my life back. Now I think I'll get it back."

Lawrence had become so fearful that someone was trying to kill her that she had police install a recording device on her phone. Suspecting that Sabo had cut her brakes, she taped several conversations with him, including one in which he admitted that he had gotten drunk, retrieved some tools from his Annandale home and "did something" to her car.

Sabo, who took the stand in his own defense, denied cutting the brake lines and said he had made up that story because he feared Lawrence would go to his wife about their affair. Sabo separated from his wife after he started dating Lawrence, and he feared Lawrence would damage his relationship with his daughter.

Stamos told jurors in her final argument that Sabo, who recently resigned as GOP chairman of the 11th Congressional District and as a member of the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board, cut the steel brake lines because he was upset over the breakup of his eight-month relationship with Lawrence the day before. Stamos reminded the jurors that a forensic scientist had testified that wire cutters found in Sabo's home had left distinctive marks on Lawrence's brake lines.

"He was lobbying you the way he does on Capitol Hill and in Richmond," Stamos told jurors of his performance on the stand. "He thinks he's going to get away with it. Don't you let him."

Before jurors began deliberating on a sentence, defense attorney A. Strode Brent told them, "You have marked [Sabo] for the rest of his life." In addition to taking away his right to vote, he said, they had, by their guilty verdict, "disrupted, devastated, crippled" Sabo's future.

As he waited for the sentencing verdict, Sabo told reporters that he had cared very much for Lawrence and never would have done anything to harm her. He also said he wanted to thank Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) for their support "during this difficult time."