Charlottesville Breaking News

DNA advance: Harrington's parents pleased by familial approval

Four months after the parents of murdered Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington urged the Virginia Crime Commission to allow familial DNA searches to be conducted in unsolved homicides, the state is ready to begin using the tool, Governor Bob McDonnell announced Monday, March 21.

"I think this is going to be very valuable," says Morgan's father, Dan Harrington, "not only in Morgan's case, but in other unsolved crimes throughout the state."

The Harrington case certainly seems tailor-made for the technology. Twenty-year-old Harrington disappeared from outside UVA's John Paul Jones Arena during a Metallica concert on October 17, 2009. Her remains were discovered more than three months later on an Albemarle County farm, and unidentified DNA recovered in the case matches DNA left on the victim of a 2005 rape in Fairfax.

Unlike a traditional DNA search, which looks for an exact match within the state's DNA databank, a familial DNA search looks for matches that suggest an immediate family relationship to help police home in on a suspect. It's how California investigators recently caught two alleged predators. Lonnie David Franklin Jr., known...

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Long gone: How UVA lost Pat Collins

 Barbara Shannon was so nervous about flying overseas that she called her son in Charlottesville, where the 27-year-old had recently moved from California.

"Pat's last words to me were, ‘Don't worry, Mom, everything's going to be all right. Nothing's going to happen to you.’”

And indeed, 25 years later, his mother is still alive— but the same probably can’t be said for Patrick Collins.

After he vanished in 1986, the University of Virginia graduate student was branded a walk-away by the UVA Police Department. Instead of conducting a thorough investigation— especially in light of evidence suggesting foul play— the campus police dismissed any possibility of a crime and resolutely maintained that he must have schemed to abandon his life.

The harder the grieving family pushed for an investigation, the harder the university pushed back, finally asking an FBI agent— who had had only superficial contact with the case— for his assessment. He was happy to comply, and endorsed, on FBI letterhead, the department’s “professionalism” and “quality police work.”

Now, 25 years later, the FBI agent acknowledges that he wrote the...

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Mistaken identity defense? Parkway shooter pleads guilty, gets life

Ralph Leon Jackson, 57, pleaded guilty March 23 in federal court to the murder last spring of WNRN DJ Tim Davis, 27, and the wounding of Christina Floyd, 18, as they sat at Rock Point Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway and watched the sunset on April 5. Jackson will spend the rest of his life in prison.

He told investigators the seemingly random shotgun shooting was a case of mistaken identity, and that he thought Davis was the man "messing around" with his daughter, and that he mistook Floyd for his daughter, the News Virginian reports.

The Stuarts Draft man also has blamed his murderous behavior on insanity ("I'm crazy," he told Floyd as she struggled with him for her life) and on male-enhancement medication.

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy said Jackson offered explanations to law enforcement that weren’t credible. "We found no evidence of a mental disease or defect," said Heaphy. "We can only speculate as to the motive for this awful crime."

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Liz Taylor: She shot classic Giant in Albemarle

As tributes pour in for Elizabeth Taylor, some Albemarle residents may recall how she came to the Charlottesville area more than 50 years ago to shoot a movie that became a classic: Giant.

Besides Taylor, the 1956 film starred Rock Hudson and James Dean (who did not come for the Virginia scenes), in what would be the final role for Dean.

In Albemarle, it was a Keswick mansion called Belmont that served as the backdrop for some scenes supposedly taking place at a Maryland horse farm, and the Keswick rail depot was another location site.

Taylor's co-stars Hudson and Dean each earned Oscar nominations, as the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards in all.

Local photographer Ed Roseberry, known for his iconic shots of student life at UVA in the 1950s and 60s, vividly remembers Taylor's visit, and even manged to nab a shot of Taylor's good friend and former co-star Montgomery Clift, who was not in the film and seemed to "appear out of nowhere," says Roseberry.

A freelance photographer at the time who sidelined as a restaurant inspector for the health department, Roseberry says the kitchen manager of the swanky Thomas Jefferson Inn (now the Federal...

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Glenmoregate: Embezzling Comer gets another 3 years

Convicted embezzler Michael Comer stood before a judge today in federal court for the final sentencing in a string of charges that came to light when the Glenmore homeowners association discovered it was missing money–- and its former treasurer.

Kandi Comer, his wife, and her sister, Mo Gaffney, sat in the back of the courtroom as U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon sentenced a gray-striped, prison-garbed Comer to 36 months on tax fraud and mail fraud charges stemming from embezzlement of Glenmore Associates, PBK Real Estate, and Kessler Enterprises–- companies associated with his wife's family.

Comer had already pleaded guilty. Between 2003 and 2009, he admitted he filed false income tax returns and had $2,548,212 in unreported, taxable income. He agreed to repay the additional income tax that's at least $933,028.

Comer's lawyer, Blair Howard from Warrenton, pleaded with the judge to consider Comer's children and the letters written by his mother-in-law, Peggy Kessler, and sister-in-law Gaffney, both victimized by Comer's financial machinations.

"It's true he betrayed his family," acknowledges Howard. "He used assets to buy a better way of life for his family." That included private school tuition for his two children.

Howard also noted Comer had n...

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