A former Arlington County sheriff’s deputy was sentenced Thursday to six years in prison for fatally shooting a popular “PBS NewsHour” driver last year during an unusual, late-night confrontation in an Alexandria neighborhood.
Family members of both men filled the wooden benches of an Alexandria courtroom to hear the conclusion of the case that has roiled the city almost from the moment in May when Julian Dawkins, 22, was fatally shot.
The outcome was not totally unexpected; a jury had already recommended that Craig Patterson, who was off duty at the time of shooting and said he acted in self-defense, spend six years in prison. Visiting Judge William D. Hamblen simply imposed its will.
But for some, the proceedings brought some solace, even if closure remained elusive.
“After today, I think I’m going to start with the healing process,” said Gwen Pratt Miller, Dawkins’s mother. “I don’t think anything will bring me any closure, because I don’t have a son anymore.”
For his part, Patterson apologized to the court and to members of Dawkins’s family, saying he was “deeply sorry for the loss of Mr. Dawkins’s life that night.”
Patterson was convicted in December of voluntary manslaughter in the killing, which drew significant attention from media and city leaders. Police did not initially arrest Patterson or say much about their investigation, sparking some frustration among Dawkins’s family members and friends. And when they finally did, Patterson, 45, fought the charges vigorously.
The case was complicated, even though there was never any dispute that Patterson shot Dawkins. Prosecutors charged Patterson with first-degree murder, saying that after he and Dawkins got into a dispute on Lynhaven Drive, he left to retrieve his gun, returned and shot Dawkins. Witnesses testified that they saw Patterson leave after an initial confrontation.
In his testimony, Patterson said he left only to get handcuffs, mistakenly believing that he could detain Dawkins even though he was not in Arlington County and out of his jurisdiction. He said that Dawkins had threatened him with a knife and “appeared to be under the influence of something.”
But Patterson said that when he returned, Dawkins charged at him with something in his hand. Patterson said he fired his gun, which he claimed he had been carrying even during the initial encounter. Investigators later found that Dawkins — who had just been at a party at his aunt’s house in the neighborhood — was intoxicated and carrying a knife, but the weapon was folded in his pocket during the shooting.
Patterson, a 17-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, was placed on unpaid administrative leave after he was charged and retired as a deputy in December, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office said.
Commonwealth's Attorney Bryan Porter said Thursday that Patterson’s actions were “violent, reckless and unnecessary” and were especially disconcerting given his work as a sheriff’s deputy. He asked Hamblen to keep Dawkins in mind as he delivered his sentence and send a message “that his life is worth something.”
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argued to have jury sentencing declared altogether unconstitutional. When Hamblen rejected that effort, they said that he should impose a term at the low end of the sentencing-guidelines range, which spanned from two years and a month to five years and eight months.
Joe King, one of Patterson’s defense attorneys, told Hamblen that Patterson was a good father, a church deacon and a “man of integrity.” He said that Patterson should not be judged simply on his actions that night but “for the full person that he is.”
“His intent wasn’t going back to kill the young man,” King said. “That was an unfortunate result.”
King said Patterson also had been threatened while in jail by those who knew Dawkins.
Hamblen, though, was unmoved. He said he believed that the jury’s sentence was “reasoned” and “thoughtful” and that he was not going to change it.
“The loss of a human life is beyond measure,” Hamblen told Patterson. “The loss to you is significant as well. Not nearly the same.”