NEWS- Glad dad: No contempt in 'bomb' case

The father of the 15-year-old student ensnared in Albemarle County's bomb conspiracy dragnet escaped his own possible stay behind bars September 19 when a judge agreed that the dad's actions weren'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 afterward on the courthouse steps. In court, the father, 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. No bombs or detailed plans for any assault were ever found, and some parents contended that their children were convicted for idle chatter.

The Albemarle 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 by school superintendent Pam Moran– once in writing and twice verbally– to notify the Board if his son's status with the justice system changed.

The son's legal status improved dramatically May 19 when in a plea agreement the boy dropped the appeal of his conviction 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 be expunged.

Virginia law says a court has 15 days to provide information of such a change of status to a school board, but notice was never forwarded to Moran. Albemarle Circuit Clerk Shelby Marshall is on vacation until next week, according to deputy clerks, and did not respond to requests for comment.

The father testified he grew frustrated when the court failed to send the notice and claimed he never imagined that his letter– mailed a month after his son's plea agreement was accepted-– 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."

During Tuesday's hearing, prosecutor Darby Lowe acknowledged that she obtained the dad's letter from School Board attorney Mark Trank. Whether Trank offered the letter or merely produced it when asked was unclear at press time. However, the fact that the family once sued the county school system caused some court watchers to wonder if there might be an element of payback at work.

As for the accused "plotter," he seems tired of the home-schooling that's been his only educational option 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 a jury, won an acquittal in mid-August and has enrolled for his freshman year at Albemarle.)

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."

The only adult charged in the "bomb" case was a dad who wrote too much.