NEWS- Revolving door: '02 CHS attacker nets 10 felony charges

Five years ago, when a band of Charlottesville High School students went on a rampage against white and Asian UVA students, there were some who urged calm, arguing that the perpetrators were young and able to clean up their act. For at least one, however, that didn't happen.

Since beating up students in early 2002 when he was a football player at CHS, now 22-year-old Vernon Howard has maintained a lengthy, but mostly nonviolent rap sheet. That changed December 16, when he allegedly fired a couple of rounds into a car in downtown Culpeper.

According to the Culpeper Star-Exponent, Howard, in a light blue minivan, had an argument with three people. He left the scene and returned on foot 20 minutes later with a handgun, which he fired at an occupied vehicle. No one was injured.

He was arrested in Charlottesville December 20 and charged with 10 felony counts, including malicious wounding, shooting in the commission of a felony and at an occupied vehicle, charges that could add up to more than 30 years in prison. 

"That's a bunch of time," says Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman, whose office has prosecuted Howard numerous times. Howard has been convicted of distribution of marijuana, obstruction of justice, and three times for driving on a revoked license.

"It's disappointing someone who has been before the court is back again," says Chapman. "Either he hasn't benefited from the services offered and punishment imposed, or he wasn't adequately sentenced."

At the time Howard was sentenced in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to nearly six months house arrest in 2002 for taking part in four assaults that left UVA students with a broken cheekbone, a concussion and bruises, some citizens in the community felt he'd gotten off lightly.

"I think it's unfortunate Judge Susan Whitlock didn't deal with him more severely," says Charlottesvillian Kevin Cox, who believes Howard wouldn't be sitting in jail now "if he'd been held accountable for violently attacking people.

"I was shocked at the lenient sentence," continues Cox. "I was in the courtroom that day." 

Cox wasn't surprised to see Howard arrested for multiple felonies. "He assaulted a friend of mine, a young woman who was selected because she was a young white woman," he says. "It was definitely a hate crime."

In 2002, the community rallied to support the mostly black Charlottesville High students who targeted UVA students in five assaults.

At his June 4, 2002, sentencing, a seemingly repentant Howard told the judge, "What I did was uncalled for. A lot of things in my head were wrong."

Outside the Charlottesville General District Court October 5, 2004, after an appearance for driving without a license, Howard told the Hook, "My mind is f***ed up."

But to those who thought he'd gotten off too leniently in 2002, Howard had a message: "Tell 'em to deal. Tell 'em to kiss my a**. You can quote that."

Ben Bateman, one of Howard's victims from five years ago and now a graduate student at UVA, isn't surprised at the latest charges. "He didn't get punished at all for the multiple attacks," says Bateman. "He got let off, and now he's a recidivist."

Bateman, too, was in court in 2002 when Howard was sentenced. "The point I made over and over is if he'd attacked one person, maybe he was a first-time offender. But it was spread over different nights and different victims. He wasn't a first-time offender."

Howard is being held without bond and faces a February 7 preliminary hearing in Culpeper. He has a pending case in Charlottesville General District Court for making threatening phone calls.

Former CHS football player Vernon Howard spent Christmas in jail for allegedly firing a gun at an occupied car in Culpeper.