Herndon police said yesterday that they will not charge a Sterling man who allegedly shot two Reston men at his daughter's high school graduation party, killing one of them. But the Fairfax County prosecutor said he had not made a final decision on whether any charges will result from the incident.
Attorneys for Eddie Bennett said he acted in self-defense when he shot a pair of gate-crashers at the pool party June 12 at a clubhouse in Herndon. The shooting victims, Jay Randall, 16, and his friend Robert Clay, 21, had been at the clubhouse parking lot earlier that evening when a fistfight broke out and returned later, according to witnesses. Bennett's attorney, John H. Partridge, said that when one of the young men opened fire in the clubhouse, Bennett shot back with his own handgun.
Herndon police said in a news release that no charges would be filed but did not elaborate on why. The release said it was Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr.'s decision not to prosecute.
But Horan said he had no knowledge of the release and added that "as far as I'm concerned, it's not over."
Horan said numerous witnesses outside the clubhouse had refused to speak with police. "You can't close it out until we get to a point where we are satisfied there's nothing we can add," he said.
The shooting occurred in the clubhouse of the Four Seasons pool in the 1200 block of Herndon Parkway. Bennett and his wife were hosting a party for their daughter, Shauntai, who was graduating from Park View High School.
A neighbor said there had been a fistfight in the parking lot, causing the Bennetts to call police and shut down the party. The neighbor, Sufian Ghannan, said that he spoke with several young men, including Randall, about 11 p.m. and that the men said they planned to return later and look for their adversaries.
Partridge said that Randall and Clay entered the clubhouse after the party was over and that at least one of them started firing. Bennett fired back, Partridge said, apparently striking Randall in the chest and Clay in the stomach. Randall died at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Police reported that at least six shots were fired, and investigators spent weeks trying to determine which bullets came from which gun. Horan repeatedly directed Herndon police to do additional investigation.
Bennett could not be reached for comment, but Partridge said that "pleased isn't the right word" to describe his client's reaction. He said the Bennetts "are happy to put this behind them. They feel it's been an ordeal for many people, and they hope everyone's able to bring some closure to this."
Randall's father, James Randall, said prosecutors had notified him of the decision, and he declined to comment further.
Jay Randall has been described as a model student through sixth grade, but he apparently fell in with a different crowd in seventh grade and left South Lakes High School after one semester. After he violated probation on a marijuana possession charge, he left home at age 15 for more than a year.
After being arrested and spending time in juvenile jail, where he accomplished the unusual feat of getting his GED, Randall returned home to his parents. He appeared to be calming down, his parents thought, until they received the phone call that he'd been shot.
"He fell in with a bad peer group," said James Randall, "and he never got off the bad track."