Razor's edge: Presley trail trial postponed

Charlottesville's code violation case against Shirley Presley, the woman accused of stringing razor wire across a smidgen of her property to keep Rivanna Trail hikers off, has been postponed until August 31.

Originally scheduled for June 29, the case was moved because Charlottesville General District Court Judge Bob Downer had to leave town for a medical emergency involving a family member.

A substitute, retired federal judge Jackson Kiser, is handling Downer's caseload in his absence, but both the prosecution and defense opted to wait until Downer returns to town.

"Both of us decided this is one of those cases appropriate for the city judge to hear," says Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ron Huber.

Presley's lawyer, Fred Payne, rankled the city by issuing 13 subpoenas for the misdemeanor case. On June 21, Downer heard– and denied– the city's motion to quash nine of those issued to city employees, including City Manager Gary O'Connell, Police Chief Tim Longo, and City Councilor Kevin Lynch.

Also ordered to appear in court was Hook reporter Courteney Stuart, who reported on the story in 2002 and 2003. And Presley's Bland Circle neighbor, Carolyn Reilly, also on the subpoena list, flew in from an Indian reservation in South Dakota where she's a missionary.

Payne says Reilly will be back again in August.

Perhaps most disappointed by the delay is city code official Jerry Tomlin, who charged Presley with failure to comply with the ordinance. "August 31 is a long time to wait," he says.

Tomlin is worried someone will be hurt on the concertina wire this summer. "I was down there yesterday," he says. "Someone is maintaining it to keep the vegetation away."

The city has surveyed the brush pile and razor wire to make sure it belongs to Presley. "We know it's hers," says Tomlin.

That the Rivanna Trail used a bit of land owned by Presley without her permission is beside the point to Tomlin. "To me it's not a trail issue," he says. "It's a violation of the ordinance put in place for the safety of people and animals."

Tomlin says he's wanted the razor wire down since February. "I'm angered that justice can't come any sooner," he declares.

Is the use of razor wire on Shirley Presley's land a property rights issue or a code violation that's just plain unsafe? It'll be August 31 before a judge decides.