HOTSEAT- Ray of sunshine: Staunton prosecutor keeps smiling through controversy
Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Robertson can pinpoint the very moment he made the decision to live a life in the public eye.
"I was delivering the valedictory at my high school graduation," says Robertson. "It was the first time I'd ever had to give a speech, so I wrote it down on notecards, but in the middle of the speech I lost my place and drew a complete blank. Eventually, I found the right card, but I promised myself that day that I was going to learn how to speak on my feet."
Nearly 50 years later, Robertson's personal vow has become a long-running career as Staunton's top prosecutor. With nine four-year terms under his belt, he is currently running unopposed for a 10th.
This comes after a year in which Robertson has landed far more attention than usual from Charlottesville's side of the mountain. He caused a state-wide stir for prosecuting an adult video store, and he charged a suspect in the 1967 double killing of two young women at High's Ice Cream. For Robertson, the High's case– though the charges came 41 years after the killings– has particularly poignance.
"I got here in 1968, just after the first trial," says Robertson, referring to the acquittal of original suspect Bill Thomas, "and it had always been something I wanted to resolve for the families of those girls and for Staunton."
Confessed suspect Sharron Diane Crawford Smith will never see trial, however, because she died of kidney failure in January, just two months after being charged. Robertson says that before Smith ever uttered her confession, he was certain he had found Staunton's most infamous killer.
"I met with her before she died," says Robertson. "She was as cold and hard a person as I've ever seen. When she talked about the murder, she showed no emotion, didn't bat an eye."
Robertson can be equally unflinching when it comes to discussing his controversial prosecution of After Hours Video. After a four-day trial in which jurors watched three-and-a-half hours of sexual footage in open court, Robertson won guilty verdicts against the store and its owner, Rick Krial on obscenity charges. The store closed its doors, never to re-open. While critics decried the trial as a waste of time and taxpayer money, Robertson stands by his decision to prosecute pornography.
"This stuff is so bad for a community," says Robertson. "It's a kind of gateway drug. You get addicted to it, and then you need weirder and weirder stuff to get the same high. Every child molester I've ever prosecuted has had a porn collection. Pedophiles aren't born, they're made."
Robertson is well aware that such statements don't always make him the most popular figure, but says that 35 years as Commonwealth's Attorney has built up some thick skin.
"I never pay a lot of attention to the critics," says Robertson. "I'm just here to enforce the law."
Why here? Staunton is "Little Eden," beautiful scenery and buildings, friendly people, four seasons (none too harsh), great work and play environment.
What's worst about living here? Too far from Tidewater and the Outer Banks.
Favorite hangout: Any of the many fine restaurants, especially Mill Street Grill on Wednesday (Jazz night); The Split Banana.
Most overrated virtue: None (they're all important, or they wouldn't be virtues)
People would be surprised to know: I used to play guitar.
What would you change about yourself: I wish I were more considerate of others, especially my loved ones.
Proudest accomplishment: Being able to truly care about my work.
What people find most annoying about you: Take your pick; I have lots of faults. One for sure: being too critical of others.
Whom do you admire: Obama right now; my first heroes were Douglas MacArthur and Stan Musial.
Favorite Book: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Subject that causes you to rant: Obscenity
Biggest 21st-century thrill: A tie between solving the High's double murder case and winning the obscenity trial against After Hours Video.
Biggest 21st century creep out: Watching the events of 9/11.
What do you drive? 2004 Dodge Caravan
In your car CD player right now: Pop tunes of the ‘50s.
Next journey: New Orleans
Most trouble you've ever gotten in: Sassing my parents many years ago. (They meted out the appropriate punishment too).
Regret: That both my parents died so young (Dad, 42; Mom, 51).
Favorite comfort food: Split Banana Ice Cream or gelato (most any flavor).
Always in your refrigerator: Coke Zero
Must-see TV: American Idol
Describe a perfect day: At the beach, temperatures in the mid-80s, reading, writing, swimming, tanning.
Walter Mitty fantasy: Beating Tiger Woods at golf.
Who would play you in the movie: Robert Redford
Most embarrassing moment: Being stopped by a policeman for speeding.
Best advice you ever got: Be true to yourself.
Favorite bumper sticker: Re-Elect Ray Robertson