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Judge unseals exhibits against ex-officer
Judge gives defense access to state exhibits in murder case against former Culpeper police officer, but says it must make better argument for her to move trial

Date published: 9/14/2012

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

A Culpeper circuit judge has ordered that the defense in the Daniel Harmon-Wright murder case be given access to sealed exhibits that were presented to the special investigative grand jury that indicted the former town police officer.

In an order dated Tuesday, Judge Susan Whitlock agreed that defense attorney Daniel Hawes may "take notes and duplicate exhibits" that were previously under seal.

The 32-year-old Harmon-Wright is charged with one count of murder, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in connection with the death of Patricia Cook on Feb. 9.

Cook, 54, was shot after Harmon-Wright responded to a call about a suspicious person and confronted her in the Epiphany Catholic School parking lot, where she sat in her Jeep Wrangler.

After a six-week intensive investigation, a grand jury indicted Harmon-Wright on May 29. He was fired from the town police force in June.

Whitlock also ruled that the $3.35 million wrongful death suit will not be heard until after Harmon-Wright's jury trial, which is set to begin Jan. 22.

That suit, filed in May, will continue despite the sudden death Tuesday of 62-year-old Gary Cook, Patricia Cook's husband.

Gary Cook was found dead in his apartment 30 minutes before Whitlock issued her 11 a.m. ruling. The Virginia State Police issued a statement Wednesday stating that the widower apparently died of natural causes.

"The family believes that the case should move on," Charlottesville attorney Gary Webb said Thursday. "They believe that Officer Harmon-Wright should be held accountable not only criminally but also in civil court."

Webb said that Patricia Cook's brother, John Weigler of Pennsville, N.J., will be named as substitute plaintiff in the suit.

The Cooks had no children. Patricia Cook's mother could also be substituted if necessary, Webb said.

While not making a written ruling on Hawes' motion for a change of venue, Whitlock did say that the defense would need to present a more compelling argument to move the trial.

Hawes had indicated in August that his client could not get a fair trial in Culpeper because of media coverage in the high-profile case.

Whitlock said that Hawes may come back before the court if he so desires, but no future hearing date has yet been set prior to the January trial.

Donnie Johnston:
Email: djohnston@freelancestar.com