Attempted capital murder: Wrong-way driver pleads not guilty
The man who drove the wrong way down Interstate 64 in June pleaded guilty to drunk driving, but not the attempted capital murder of a police officer.
Michael Dennis Hogberg, 26, of Crozet faces a maximum sentence of 15 years for his guilty pleas to driving under the influence for the third time, felony driving with a suspended license, and felony eluding.
After entering the three guilty pleas in Albemarle Circuit Court November 30, Hogberg said he was not guilty of attempting what Virginia code calls the "willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of a law-enforcement officer" on June 20, which was his birthday.
Defense attorney David Heilberg asked Judge Cheryl Higgins to dismiss the capital charge, arguing that attempted capital murder relies on circumstantial evidence of the defendant's state of mind and intent to kill.
"On his birthday, he did a terrible thing," said Heilberg. "He has not denied that. To convict him of attempted capital murder is a different thing."
While it's possible to kill without intent, said Heilberg, "You have to have intent to kill to be guilty of attempted capital murder." And his client, said Heilberg, was too intoxicated to form that intent in the 15 seconds he drove toward Virginia State Police Trooper Kevin Frazier on I-64 at approximately 75mph without swerving.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Elliott Casey argued that Hogberg knew he was going the wrong way, recognized that Trooper Frazier was law enforcement, and recognized that if he hit Frazier head on, he would have killed him.
"The defendant never deviated or swerved from Trooper Frazier," said Casey. "That period of time is a lot of time."
"That's a lot of time if you're sober," replied Judge Higgins.
Casey noted that when Hogberg fled, he was very careful to remove the car keys and turn off the headlights, and was well concealed in his hiding place.
And when he was found, Hogberg told the state trooper, "I'm sorry for trying to kill you," said Casey.
Heilberg responded that the impairment of someone as intoxicated as Hogberg, who had a blood alcohol level of .15, combined with adrenaline, could manifest itself with the presence of mind to do some things, and not others.
Hogberg made the news a year ago at the UVA-Virginia Tech game at Scott Stadium when he was arrested for public drunkenness, ran, and was Tased while handcuffed, the latter captured on camera by the Newsplex. The same officer who Tased him, which led to a rewrite on county police policy on Tasing handcuffed suspects, Albemarle Officer Eric Kudro, was the arresting officer in the June incident.
As for how a drunk driver would be charged with willfully planning to kill a cop, police watchdog Steve Shifflett opines, "They charge him for the worst and hope to plead him down."
Adds Shifflett, "That's a strange charge because he was obviously drunk. It's not like it was premeditated. He probably didn't swerve because he was too drunk to make a fast decision."
Judge Higgins will rule on the defense motion to strike the attempted capital charge on December 7.