No bail: Abshire pleads poverty in first court appearance

cover-abshire-court-insetEric Abshire made his first court appearance Thursday in the Orange County Circuit Court. Inset: Abshire at a November 3, 2007 vigil for Justine. PHOTO BY COURTENEY STUART/INSET BY JAY KUHLMANN

After spending nearly three weeks behind bars, accused wife-killer Eric Abshire was forced to wait seven hours past his scheduled hearing time before he was led into the Orange County Circuit courtroom at around 5pm on Thursday, January 6 for his first appearance in what appears already on its way to becoming a lengthy legal process.

Wearing handcuffs, leg shackles, and the orange-and-white-striped uniform of the Central Virginia Regional Jail, where he has been held since his December 17 arrest on first degree murder and perjury charges, the 36-year-old Abshire painted a bleak picture of his finances as he asked Judge Daniel Bouton for a court-appointed attorney.

Standing erect and speaking in a steady tone, the former dump-truck operator said he worked full-time until his arrest, and he denied having any assets, including a vehicle. His checking account balance, he said, is $120. (As previously reported, Abshire–- who allegedly attempted to secure $300,000 of his late wife's life insurance proceeds–- declared bankruptcy in May 2009.)

Judge Bouton appointed Charlottesville attorney Charles Weber and agreed with the prosecutor by denying Abshire's bail request, ordering Abshire to remain behind bars until his tentatively scheduled February 4 arraignment at which the charges against him will be formally read. (Directly indicted by a grand jury, Abshire will not get a preliminary hearing.)

During the approximately 15 minutes Abshire spent in the courtroom, the family of Justine Swartz Abshire, whom Abshire is charged with murdering, sat expressionless, staring intently at the man they have long believed caused his 27-year-old wife's death. Her body was found on a dark road in November 2006 death, ostensibly the victim of a hit-and-run.

"I was struck by what a pointless tragedy this whole thing is," says the victim's father, Steve Swartz. who says he was overwhelmed by the "many, many layers of damage and hurt" that have rippled through both families.

Swartz, speaking the morning after the hearing, was accompanied in the courtroom by his younger daughter and her husband.

The Swartzes have long expressed their belief that Abshire, a former Marine, lied about the night he says he discovered Justine's body lying on Taylorsville Road. A beloved kindergarten teacher at Culpeper's Emerald Hill Elementary School, Justine was also working toward a master degree at UVA.

"I just feel such sadness," Justine's sister, Lauren, said before the hearing.

Several members of Abshire's circle were also present in the courtroom. His brother, Jesse, who is one of the four named defendants in a civil suit filed by Justine's family, left the courthouse immediately at the conclusion without offering comment. However, the grandmother of Eric's two daughters says she was only there for one reason.

"My granddaughter asked me to come and be here when her daddy came out," said Jaye Morris, breaking into sobs as she stood outside the building.

"My heart breaks for the Swartzes, " said Morris, "but my heart also breaks for my grandchildren."

Morris is the mother of Allison Crawford, the Martha Jefferson Hospital nurse who, after Justine's death, alleged "family abuse" and won a two-year protective order against former domestic partner Abshire. Crawford is accused in the Swartzes' civil suit of conspiring with Abshire and others to cause Justine's death. Crawford, not present in court, has denied any involvement.

As the shackled Abshire was led from the courtroom on his way back to jail, he turned briefly and looked out into the gallery to focus his gaze on Crawford's parents and sister. Just before exiting, Abshire stopped once more to look back, pressed his lips together and made an expression of anguish before disappearing through a door accompanied by a bailiff.

This story is a part of the The killing of Justine Swartz Abshire special.


Being directly indicted by a grand jury doesn't impress me much. While there's several reasons the Commonwealth would proceed like this, one of those reasons is the concern that the Commonwealth might feel as if they don't have enough evidence to have a General District Court judge certify the charges to a grand jury.

In other words, which "rubber stamp" did the Commonwealth feel was going to easier to obtain based on their evidence, that of a judge after a preliminary hearing, or that of a grand jury?

It will be a very long process. And I doubt if Abshire has the $75,000 to $100,000 required to hire a good attorney. Most people don't nowadays.

un known,
None of the comments posted are directed towards his children, you are in fact the one who brought them up. If you think everyone should just stay out of it, then you should possibly take you your own advice. My only hope is that justice is served and that the person/s/ responsible are held accountable.

i think every one needs to stay out of this. this man has 2 kids and they have the right to protect there dad and they are getting hurt byall meens yes this is wrong for what he did but leave the mother and there kidds out of it. please do so these kidds are terrified to see whats going on with there dad. now when they go in a store people say to them your dad is amurder?????? how would you feel if your in a store and somebody says that to your kids ?????

UN Known,
I think the public has a right to display outrage. If we didn't, generations to come may feel this was the norm. Re- is correct. No one mentioned the children but you. My heart goes out to both families.

I wouldn't place much faith in any court appointed attorney unless they are compensated much better than they used to. If Abshire is guilty, this doesn't bother me much. But if he is innocent, he should have the best attorney money can buy.

Did it ever occur to you, Gasbag, that the Commonwealth used a special grand jury in order to get testimony (under oath) from individuals with knowledge of the incident? Where do you think the perjury charge came from?

Not sure where you are going with this. No flavor of grand jury is going to rubber stamp anything unless individuals with knowledge of the incident offers some type of testimony, either verbal or documentary.

Where did the perjury charge come from? I don't know. Did a witness or the suspect commit perjury? It's not unusual for the testimony of a witness to contradict the prior statements of the suspect. This doesn't mean the suspect lied. Witnesses often lie if it's in their best interest (this includes cops).

another wonderful animal, in human being clothing. I am certain that neighbors and witnesses who knew this was going to happen will come forward. Another case of no one speaking up to stop this type of atrocity.

Abshire has been given a quite competent court appointed attorney. Buddy Weber will do a good job for him.

The purpose of the special grand jury is to give the prosecutor a chance to question under oath, with the power to compel answers, everyone involved. This is a power that federal grand juries always have -- to really investigate. Most state grand juries (ones that are not "special" grand juries) do no investigating. They hear from one police officer who summarizes the evidence, including hearsay and other inadmissible things. Rarely does a state grand jury hear from anyone other than the lead investigator on a case.

Eric Abshire must have been called as a witness and must have testified under oath about something that the prosecutors could prove with hard evidence was not true. They don't get a perjury charge against you for a "general denial." For example, if they ask him, "Did you kill her?" and he answered "No," they won't indict him for perjury. If they ask him, "Did you make a telephone call at 12:30 AM," and they have a cell phone record showing that he did, that could be the basis of a perjury charge. We won't know until Buddy Weber starts filing motions just what it was that he said that they are saying is undeniably and clearly not true.

his azz will rot in jail or live the rest of his life in prison