Bomber dad escapes contempt charge

The father of the 15-year-old ensnared in Albemarle County's bomb conspiracy dragnet escaped his own possible bout behind bars today, as a judge agreed that the dad's intent wasn't sufficient to warrant a conviction.

"Technically, I think you violated the court order," said Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross. "I'm dismissing the contempt. End of case."

"We won," said the dad outside on the courthouse steps. In court, the dad, a financial planner, declared from the stand that his June 22 letter to the Albemarle School Board was clumsy but not contemptible. "He's a smart man," said his lawyer. "But he's not a lawyer."

Because of the boy's age, the boy and his father have not been identified by the Hook.

The Board had expelled the boy following his late March conviction in juvenile court on two conspiracy charges. The dad testified that he was thrice asked– once in writing and twice verbally– by School Board Superintendent Pamela Moran to notify the Board if his son's status with the justice system changed.

The son's legal status improved drastically May 19. In a plea agreement, the boy dropped his appeal in exchange for accepting the lesser deferred charge of "communicating a threat." With good behavior, the charge would never actually be lodged against him, and the records would eventually get expunged.

Virginia law says a court has 15 days to provide such information to a school board, but that didn't happen. Sought for comment, Albemarle Circuit Clerk Shelby Marshall was on vacation and would not return until next week, according to deputy clerks.

The father testified he grew frustrated when the court failed to send that notice and claimed he never imagined that his letter– sent a month after his son's plea– would put him in legal jeopardy. I felt the ball was in my court," he testified. "I'm a babe in the woods when it comes to all this law stuff," the dad said afterwards.

During today's hearing, prosecutor Darby Lowe mentioned that she obtained the dad's letter from School Board attorney Mark Trank. Whether Trank offered the letter or merely produced it when asked could not be learned at press time. However, it is known that the dad once waged a lawsuit against the County school system which, forced to concede that it didn't have a policy it thought it had, settled the case.

As for the boy, he seems tired of the home-schooling that's been his education since his expulsion. "I want to play football again," says the boy, who would have begun his junior year at Albemarle High School this fall. "They don't have football in home school," cracked the parent of another boy ensnared in the alleged conspiracy. (That boy, the only one to face jury, won an acquittal in mid-August.)

Ironically, it was the family of the 15-year-old who sought the closed hearing that landed the father in trouble. "We were objecting to a lot of evidence that we saw as improper," explains the dad. "We fully intended it to go to a jury trial."

So why the plea? "They offered us this deal," he says, "to make it all go away."

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5 comments

Isn't it against confidentiality rules to reveal a letter a parent writes to the school board to anybody?

No comments on the son's guilty plea ?

I think confidentiality would fall by the wayside if peoples' lives were in danger. Just think of the stink people would raise here if they blew up the school and it could have been headed off at the pass...Or maybe they wouldn't raise a stink. They'd just say "gee, I'm glad they kept that letter confidential!" as they buried the dead bodies.

Redbone: You are absolutely right! Most Charlottesvillian's would gladly just fall over dead than step on someone's personal liberty. That's why they're all so afraid of the Patriot Act. Even terrorists are entitled to their privacy in Charlottesville! Good grief. I often wonder why I've lived here all of these years!

Gosh, if the guy were so dangerous, why would they offer him a deal just before the jury trial and send him home unprosecuted? I don't believe for a minute that the commonwealth attorney is just choosing to release any mad bombers into the community. The way I read it, he did not plead guilty and the deal they gave to him sent him home with no record. It was the prosecutors who were demanding confidentiality by hauling the dad into court. Maybe they just don't want to say "my bad".