Charlottesville Breaking News

Day 7: What the jury won't hear

Following early morning testimony from a handwriting expert who concluded that Eric Abshire forged his then-fiancée's signature on a million-dollar vehicle insurance policy, day seven of the first-degree murder trial was more about testimony the jury won't be allowed to hear.

"Did you ever have sexual relations with Mr. Abshire?" Orange County Commonwealth's Attorney Diana Wheeler asked witness Amanda Morris. The query prompted Abshire's attorney, Charles Weber, to immediately object, and, without delay, Judge Daniel Bouton sent jurors from the courtroom. Then he allowed prosecutors to elicit Morris' testimony, which included her account of having sex with the 36-year-old  dump truck driver in the month before his May 28, 2006, wedding and again just three days after Justine Swartz Abshire's mysterious death, even before her funeral.

"He called and came over," explained Morris of the pre-funeral sexual encounter. A tall brunette, she once worked at Wet Seal, a boutique offering "cute teen clothing" in Fashion Square Mall and was then known as Amanda Leathers. She testified she was dating Abshire's close friend and dump-truck business partner, and that the tryst with Abshire was a factor in the end of her relationship.

"He was a little upset," Morris said of Abshire, testifying that while she could tell he had been drinking when he arrived at her house, "he wasn't drunk." Morris also recalled being present when Abshire revealed...

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$100K to burn: Donation stokes $3.7 million Lawn fireplaces

On a chilly fall day when the temperature barely cracked the 60-degree mark, University of Virginia officials announced that there's hope for the 106 chimneys of the hallowed Lawn and Range rooms, unceremoniously removed from service after an inspection revealed cracks in the nearly 200-year-old brick structures.

With a $100,000 gift from an alumnus, a fundraising campaign called "Keep the Fires Burning" kicked off October 19 in hopes of raising the estimated $3.7 million cost of repairing all the chimneys and installing something heretofore not seen in these historic chambers: a sprinkler system.

On Halloween, the smell of wood fires would ordinarily mix with the scents of glucose and artificial flavorings as hordes of children and parents enjoy trick-or-treating on the Lawn. However, a reporter's recent visit found not a single stick of firewood, something that would usually be stacked high along the colonnades of the so-called Academical Village this time of year.

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Day six: All about the money

Did Eric Abshire know he stood to collect $1.5 million if his wife died in a hit and run, and did he attempt to collect that money? Those questions were the subject of testimony on Wednesday, October 19, as the prosecution in the first-degree murder trial of the incarcerated Greene County dump truck driver worked its way toward the end of its witness list, only to be cut short by a bomb threat in the courthouse.

"There's a situation in the building," said Orange County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Bouton as court watchers returned to the courtroom after lunch at approximately 1:30pm. Alerting the courtroom attendees to the threat, he also attempted to offer comfort.

"There's no reason to have any basis to panic or to fear," said Bouton, who suggested that the threat was related to a case other than Abshire's. Bouton excused the jury and witnesses, then proved he didn't consider the threat imminent by asking,  before completing the evacuation, the prosecution and defense if there were any further motions to consider.

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ABC...F: What's wrong with state alcohol laws

By Don Harrison

"The ABCs of Virginia Alcohol Law” packs an awful lot of absurdity into its five-minute running time. The award-winning short-form documentary, made by filmmakers Austin Bragg and Caleb Brown, compactly summarizes for the YouTube generation the overflowing problems that bar owners and patrons face if they want to sell or consume alcohol in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

With depressing accuracy, this little film depicts a state stuck in the dark ages when it comes to how its Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control regulates, or over-regulates, spirits. As documented, many of our liquor laws seem alternately punitive and arbitrary, nonsensical and draconian, subject to selective interpretation, and capable of terminating livelihoods.

Bragg and Brown present example after example: Virginians of legal age can go into a bar and buy a bottle of beer or wine, but they are forbidden to purchase a bottle of liquor (this is called “bottle service” in other, more enlightened, locales); a bar customer can’t buy three drinks at a time– two is the limit– but the amount of alcohol contained in the drinks doesn’t factor in (Um, what is this law protecting us from? Wasteful glass usage?). Also, a person can legally transport a three-gallon jug of whiskey across state lines, but doing the same thing with six half-gallon containers– the...

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Balance of power: What's at stake in the 2011 elections

Three perennials always make the list of top local controversies: the Western 29 Bypass, Meadowcreek Parkway, and the water plan. Whether you love these projects or hate 'em, the deciders on these and many other quality-of-life issues sit on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council. And who's elected to fill seats on those key boards on November 8 has the potential to shift the balance of power on these controversial projects.

In Albemarle, it's always about growth– tightly containing it or encouraging business-friendly expansion. And nothing exemplifies the shift in power in the county more than the Western 29 Bypass, which emerged this spring from the grave where it was believed dead and buried for more than 10 years.

The resurrection of the Bypass is symbolic of how much Albemarle County has changed since the 2009 elections.

For decades, limited-growth policy backers had a 4-2 headlock on the Board of Supervisors, and the county was seen as not so business-friendly.

That course shifted two years ago when Sally Thomas decided not to run for a fifth term representing the Samuel Miller district, and Republican Duane Snow won her seat. He was joined by another Republican, Rodney Thomas, who upset Democratic incumbent David Slutzky in the Rio District. Suddenly, the board had two new Republicans joining Ken Boyd for a 3-3 balance.

Throw in conservative Dem Lindsay Dorrier, who dropped his longstandin...

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