No bail: Abshire pleads poverty in first court appearance
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.