Charlottesville Breaking News

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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Incumbent protection? House plan would add Fauquier to 5th

Every 10 years, Virginia redraws its congressional districts following the fresh census results. Cooler heads inevitably call for nonpartisan redistricting, and accusations of "gerrymandering" inevitably follow the new districts, always weighted-to-the-party-in-power.

A bipartisan plan has emerged from Virginia's members in the House of Representatives, Politico reports, but rather than praising that spirit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, critics are blasting the plan as "incumbent protection."

The plan was devised primarily by Virginia's eight GOP members, including the 5th District's freshman Representative Robert Hurt, and it got the support of the state's three Dem Reps by strengthening their districts as well, according to Politico's Richard E. Cohen, who cites multiple sources from both parties familiar with the plan.

Most eyepopping for voters in the already-gigantic 5th District, which stretches more than 150 miles from the North Carolina border to Greene County, is that the district would bloat even farther north to bisect the state, adding the Republican-leaning Washington exurb of Warrenton in Fauquier County.

David Wasserman at the Cook Political Report calls it "the most egregiously shaped district," str...

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Ragged cost: Wildfire tally nears quarter-million mark

As the criminal trial nears, tallies of suppression costs and property losses have begun in the so-called Ragged Mountain Fire, and the price-tag appears to have neared the quarter-million-dollar mark, including nearly $50,000 to extinguish the sprawling conflagration. Meanwhile, the late February blaze scorched 609 acres of terrain, according to an official with the Virginia Department of Forestry.

"We confirmed it with GPS," says David Powell, an assistant regional forester, who notes that an earlier estimate of over 800 acres included "initial containment lines" that were wider than what actually burned.

This fire– which began on a wind-whipped Saturday in a financially troubled subdivision– cost the Forestry Department $9,940, a figure that includes only the time and fuel expended for Department-mustered workers and equipment, not the efforts of the myriad other fire companies that pitched in.

If the cost– at $16 an acre– seems a little low, indeed it's less than one quarter of the $72 per acre five-year average the Department cites.

"We don't bill for investigative time or for education," explains Powell, "We only bill for actual time spent putting it out."

At the Ragged Mountain fire, which began under ...

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