A 25-year-old Woodbridge man accused of killing a former federal law enforcement officer during what police said was a robbery gone wrong has been indicted on a capital murder charge.
If convicted, Aric A. Smith could face the death penalty in the killing of Gregory Holley, 55. Holley, retired as an Army officer and as a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent, was shot and killed walking his dog in his quiet Woodbridge neighborhood on Feb. 20.
Holley, a husband and father of four, was known both for his contagious laughter and for his serious side — someone who kept a Bible at his desk. After his final retirement in 2009, he settled into a job handling the finances at his Prince William County church.
Jonathan Holley, 20, said when he first heard his father had been shot he was so angry he wanted to track down the killer himself. He said his mother, Lorita, had to hold him down.
But those thoughts have since become more “mixed.” He said in a recent interview he now realizes, “Whether [the killer] gets life or the death penalty or whatever, there’s nothing that can really bring my dad back.”
Gregory Holley was on one of his regular walks with his dog Nikita, a black-and-white pointy-eared Shiba Inu, about 9:40 p.m. when he was attacked. Police said they think Smith, who lived only blocks away, was a stranger who was looking for someone to rob.
Police said a neighbor called 911 after hearing gunshots, and Smith was arrested after a struggle with an off-duty Prince William police officer who was working a private security job nearby and heard the call on the radio.
During a Tuesday hearing in Prince William County Circuit Court, Judge Richard B. Potter appointed attorneys Joseph T. Flood and Barry Zweig to represent Smith. They declined to comment.
Under Virginia law, capital murder carries only two possible punishments, life in prison without parole or death. Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty if Smith is convicted.
“It’s a heinous, senseless crime, ” Ebert said. “I feel like justice demands that charge be brought.”
Gregory Holley was a family man, so devoted that he flew to Hawaii and Washington state to perform his son Christopher’s Army reenlistment ceremonies. At work he was calming and professional, colleagues said, but also laughed so hard he brought them and himself to tears.
Jonathan Holley said he had no idea how many people his father had touched until his death brought a packed memorial service and many notes of sympathy.
“He was my father, he was everything, he taught me how to be a man,” Jonathan said. Hearing about his father’s influence “made him even more brilliant in my eyes.”
Christopher, 38, the oldest of Holley’s sons, said he was serving in the Army in Arizona in 1996 when he was called to his sergeant’s office. His stern commanding officer asked whether he had a family member in the Army and whether that person was a lieutenant colonel. He said yes to both.
Gregory Holley had contacted the lower-ranking officer because Christopher hadn’t called home in a few days. Ordered to return the call, Christopher said he could feel everyone’s eyes on him.
“He definitely got a big kick out of it,” said Christopher, who reached his chuckling father. But he also remembers the more serious message from the phone call. “Doesn’t matter where you go, I can always find you,” Christopher said his father told him. “That was my relationship with my dad. He was always there.”
Gregory Holley was also an avid sports fan, his family said. Jonathan Holley remembers going to the Detroit Tigers game when Holley was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch as the agent in charge of ATF’s Detroit field office. He and his brother, Joshua, around age 8 or 9 at the time, were excited to go onto the field.
They knew their father, who spent time in the yard playing catch, had a good arm. But with TV cameras rolling and all eyes on him, his pitch plopped well short, dribbling sadly to the catcher.
“I look at my dad and I say, ‘Are you serious, how do you throw the ball in the dirt?’ Jonathan Holley recalled. “He just looked at me and gave me one of his famous laughs and after a while he just said, ‘I don’t know, man.’ ”
Christopher said that service runs through their family’s generations. His father was a decorated officer in the Illinois Army National Guard. After he retired from the military after 24 years in 2004, he started in law enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service. He later moved to the ATF and worked in Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and the District, authorities said.
Leon Hammond, a former Marine who worked with Holley at New Life Anointed Ministries International church in Woodbridge, said his friend’s death felt to him like when President John F. Kennedy was shot — there was a visceral reaction from the church and law enforcement community.
The two had adjacent offices, he said, and often talked five times a day. “It still hurts,” he said.
Bishop Eugene Reeves, the founder and leader of the 3,000-member New Life church, said Holley was a co-worker, congregant and close friend. Reeves helped deliver the news of Holley’s death to his two younger sons.
Reeves said that if the shooter didn’t encounter Holley — police say the alleged killer was mostly out to rob somebody — another person could have been killed.
“Maybe his last great act was, in fact, saving somebody else,” Reeves said.