Asked to tell a jury what Julian Dawkins’s life meant, Gwen Pratt Miller broke down.
Craig Patterson, the Arlington County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot her son six months ago, had been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a verdict Pratt Miller found unjust. Now Patterson would be sentenced.
“He was my only son,” Pratt Miller said through tears. “He was all I had.” She couldn’t go on. In the end, it was an aunt who told jurors of the loss’s impact. Four hours later, the jury called for a sentence of six years in prison for a crime that carries a maximum of 10.
The forewoman and several other jurors cried as they delivered the manslaughter verdict, a decision that took more than nine hours of deliberation after a four-day trial in Alexandria Circuit Court. Prosecutors had charged Patterson with first-degree murder. After sentencing, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said the jury returned a “just verdict that reflects the conscience of the community.”
There was never any dispute that Patterson, 45, shot Dawkins, a 22-year-old shuttle driver for “PBS NewsHour,” after a verbal altercation in Alexandria’s Lynhaven neighborhood early May 22. Prosecutors conceded in court that Dawkins was intoxicated and, in an initial encounter before the shooting, likely confronted Patterson with a knife.
The question for the jury was whether Patterson, who was off duty, responded as a law enforcement agent who felt a duty to protect the community and then fired in self-defense, or whether he was an angry individual out for petty revenge.
Defense attorneys argued that Patterson “never intended to kill” Dawkins. After the initial confrontation, which Patterson and other witnesses said was over who had a right to be in the neighborhood. The deputy, who said he was carrying his gun that night, testified that he decided to arrest Dawkins and went to his car to get handcuffs. He said he followed the younger man into a dark yard and called, “Stop! Police!”
Dawkins swung at him, Patterson said. “He charged at me again,” Patterson testified Wednesday. “I saw something in his hand. That’s when I drew my weapon and fired. . . . I thought he had the knife in his hand at that point.”
Patterson was forced to shoot, defense attorney Megan Thomas said in closing arguments, because he was being charged by “an angry, drunk, belligerent man, armed with a deadly weapon.” The knife was found folded in Dawkins’s pocket; Thomas speculated that what Patterson saw was a cellphone.
Porter countered in closing arguments that Patterson killed Dawkins “because he was angry . . . because he was disrespected by a man twice his size and half his age.” Patterson stands 5-foot-5; Dawkins was more than 6 feet tall.
Porter argued that Patterson went back to his car to get his gun and was lying when he said he had been carrying the weapon.
On the night of the shooting, Dawkins had been with family celebrating his cousin’s making the Washington Mystics basketball team. In a phone call, he told his girlfriend that he was being harassed by guys he didn’t know.
“You need to stop drinking!!!” Tanea Bynum, his girlfriend, told him by text. “You’re drunk and your cousin needs you in the morning.” The couple had promised to get the cousin to a team-related medical checkup.
Neighbor Destin Davis recalled on the stand that he had an odd encounter with Dawkins that evening. He said he was driving when Dawkins called out to him, “What are you doing in my neighborhood?” — a confusing question, because Davis had lived there for years and the two were acquainted.
“Julian Dawkins was intoxicated,” Porter said. “That doesn’t mean that he deserved to die.”
Kim Bragg, a family friend, said that Dawkins planned to sleep at her house for a few hours before heading to Bynum’s home in the District. She was opening the back door for him, she testified, when she heard the “pow” that ended his life.
Patterson told jurors that he was out for a late walk when he encountered Dawkins. He had moved in with his nephew a month earlier to save money, he said, for a second marriage.
Colleagues and family members testified that Patterson was a peaceful, level-headed man. “He’s very truthful,” Deputy Chris Jones said, “almost to a fault.”
On the stand, Patterson admitted that he had mistakenly believed he had the right to arrest Dawkins as a law enforcement officer, even though he was outside his jurisdiction.
“I was wrong,” said Patterson, a 17-year veteran of the sheriff’s department.
Patterson has been on unpaid administrative leave since being charged. Defense attorney Chris Leibig said that regardless of the case’s outcome, Patterson will never work in law enforcement again.
“I am very disappointed in the verdict,” Pratt Miller said outside the courthouse, calling the manslaughter decision an “outrage.”
Had she been able to get the words out, she said, she would have told the jury that she would never have grandchildren, that “Mr. Patterson took not only my past, but my present and my future from me.”
Formal sentencing is set for Feb. 6. A judge can decrease, but not increase, the jury’s sentence.