Former Culpeper Police Officer Found Guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter

Tuesday, Jan 29, 2013  |  Updated 8:46 PM EDT
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A jury on Tuesday convicted former Culpeper Police Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright of manslaughter in the death of Patricia Cook, an unarmed woman who was accused of trespassing at a private school last year. News4 Northern Virginia Bureau reporter David Culver has reaction to the verdict.

David Culver

A jury on Tuesday convicted former Culpeper Police Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright of manslaughter in the death of Patricia Cook, an unarmed woman who was accused of trespassing at a private school last year. News4 Northern Virginia Bureau reporter David Culver has reaction to the verdict.

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Former Culpeper Town Police Officer Daniel Harmon-Wright was found guilty Tuesday on three charges -- including voluntary manslaughter -- in the shooting death of a woman in the parking lot of a Catholic school last year.

Harmon-Wright was convicted of shooting Patricia Cook while he was responding to the report of a suspicious vehicle Feb. 9, 2012. 

Cook, 54, was shot multiple times in her SUV.

Harmon-Wright testified that he opened fire on Cook because she rolled her window up on his arm and began to drive away, saying he believed she was a threat to public safety. An eyewitness told News4 and Cook's lawyers a different story, saying the officer had one hand on the door handle and another on his gun.

Gregory Webb, an attorney for the victim's husband, said Patricia Cook posed no threat to the officer. "She had a manual, roll-up window -- the old crank kind," Webb said. "To catch one's arm in that, from a common sense standpoint, doesn't make sense to me."

Cook's brother told News4's David Culver that he was satisfied with the verdict.

Harmon-Wright was also found guilty of malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death. He was found not guilty of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Shortly before announcing they had a verdict, the jury asked the judge for the legal definition of two of the counts. The judge said the jury instructions should be enough, and deliberations continued.

Within the count of murder, the jury was able to choose from the charges of first-degree, second-degree or manslaughter.

Harmon-Wright had faced up to life in prison on first-degree murder. The voluntary manslaughter charge carries a sentence of 1 to 10 years.

"The whole situation is a tragedy that gripped and, in some cases, divided our community," said Mayor Calvin L. "Chip" Coleman in a statement. "...Now is the time to start the healing process. The men and women of the Culpeper Police Department are hard working and should not be judged by the actions of a former officer."

Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins also released a statement that reads in part, "This was a tragedy and a first for our community and this agency. We are all saddened by this event."

In closing arguments, the prosecution had asked the jury to look at what they called inconsistencies in Harmon-Wright's claims.

“My argument to the jury was that he’s not credible, and they shouldn’t believe him, and if they don’t believe him, then self-defense goes out the window,” special prosecutor Jim Fisher said. “If you remove the concept of self-defense from the equation, then it’s an unlawful killing. It is a malicious and unlawful killing, which means it’s murder.”

Defense attorney Daniel Hawes said it was possible Harmon-Wright made the wrong call or used poor judgment, but didn't do anything unlawful.

“The fact that she trapped his fingers in the window then hit the gas made him think he was under attack, she was willing to kill him,” Hawes said.

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