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After more than seven hours of testimony, the judge recessed court proceedings on Tuesday. Agee faces the possibility of three life sentences in prison.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Jonathan Agee (right) consults with defense attorney C.J. Covati during a hearing Tuesday.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Julia Angell testified at a sentence hearing for her husband that his ex-wife was “always doing things to cause problems.”
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
A complex and emotional criminal case has yielded an extended resolution: Jonathan Agee’s sentencing will continue today into an unexpected second day of testimony and arguments.
The hearing ran more than seven hours Tuesday in Roanoke Circuit Court where, just before 5 p.m., with additional evidence and closing arguments still remaining, Judge Charlie Dorsey recessed until 9:30 a.m. today. The former Franklin County sheriff’s deputy faces the possibility of three life sentences in prison when Dorsey decides his punishment.
Agee, 34, was found guilty in January of first-degree murder in the death of his ex-wife, Jennifer Agee, who was shot and killed at a Roanoke convenience store during his rampage on Memorial Day 2011.
He also was convicted in Montgomery County that same month on related charges of aggravated malicious wounding and attempted capital murder for shooting and wounding Sgt. Matthew Brannock . Brannock, a Virginia State Police trooper, spotted Agee driving on Interstate 81 soon after the fatal shooting and was pursuing Agee’s patrol cruiser when Agee fired upon him.
Many new details emerged during Tuesday’s hearing, including information about possible motives for Agee’s crimes: his steroid abuse, his disputes regarding custody of his children, and the extramarital affair he was conducting with the victim.
Early during the hearing, Roanoke police Detective Paul Caldwell acknowledged in his testimony that during a period before Jennifer Agee’s death, she and her ex-husband were having an affair and had exchanged sexually explicit photographs over the Internet.
On cross-examination with defense attorney C.J. Covati , Caldwell testified that at some point it appeared Jennifer Agee tried to use the photos as leverage against Jonathan Agee in a custody dispute regarding their youngest daughter. Caldwell acknowledged that on the morning of May 30, 2011, the day she was shot, Jennifer Agee had sent an explicit photograph of Jonathan Agee to Julia Angell, his wife.
Angell, in her testimony, said her husband’s ex-wife “was always doing things to cause problems,” and she claimed Jennifer Agee once sent her a letter about Jonathan Agee’s infidelity and had one of Jonathan Agee’s preteen daughters hand-deliver it to her.
Jonathan Agee, 34, wearing a gray suit, eyeglasses and a black band on his left ring finger, testified in his own defense Tuesday. He addressed his infidelity and attributed it to what he called an “alpha male” lifestyle fostered by his career in law enforcement. He also said that in order to make himself a more formidable deputy, he’d begun using illegal steroids about two years earlier and had bulked up from 170 to 230 pounds in a matter of months. State police special agent Stephen Oliver described finding vials of steroids “that didn’t appear to be full” in a basement gun safe during a search of Agee’s home.
Covati has said he still plans to introduce testimony from a Harvard Medical School professor about the link between steroids and violence.
“I made a number of mistakes,” Agee told the court. “They started out small, and accumulated and accumulated and accumulated. And something in my head snapped.”
In a quiet but occasionally declarative voice, Agee testified he had difficulty remembering the events of that Memorial Day clearly. “There’s parts of it that are there, and there’s parts of it that aren’t,” he said. “The brain kicked off and my body took over.”
But later, as he discussed the high speeds he was driving at that day, he testified, “At no point did I feel like I was out of control.”
He also claimed he had fired on Brannock but had intentionally missed, with the intention of provoking the trooper into shooting him.
Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell seized on what he said were discrepancies in Agee’s testimony regarding his honesty and his loyalty to his children.
Taking issue with the defendant’s claim that he “would do anything for my kids,” Caldwell asked: “Did you spare their mother’s life?”
The roughly 70 to 80 spectators on hand also saw video footage of the crime spree taken from dashboard cameras, including the one in Agee’s police cruiser as he drove onto I-81 with Brannock close behind.
Agee’s dashboard camera footage also showed speedometer information, which indicated his car reached speeds of up to 120 mph as he weaved in and out of the busy Memorial Day traffic. At more harrowing moments, Agee’s car cuts up onto the shoulder to pass tanker trucks, tractor-trailers and cars.
That footage, which lasted about 10 minutes, also captured the moment the cars driven by Agee and Brannock collided and came to a halt just south of Ironto. Investigators have said Agee fired 20 rounds from an M-4 carbine at Brannock’s car. Brannock said he was hit in the thigh and the pelvic bone by shrapnel from two rounds.
In the footage that follows the crash, gunshots can be heard, and Agee is briefly seen walking in front of his own patrol car in street clothes, carrying a rifle, before he returns to his vehicle and continues down the interstate.
Brannock gave emotional testimony about the incident Tuesday, and said he quickly realized the .357 Magnum he carried as a sidearm was no match for Agee’s rifle.
“I figured I was probably going to die in that car,” he said. He testified he scrambled out the passenger side of his vehicle, went over the guardrail and tried to run out of range. He hid for some time, then came back to his car and was taken to the hospital. He said he has since resigned from the state police force.
“It’s been devastating,” Brannock said in a voice choked with emotion. “I’m not the same person I was.”
Pointing a finger at Agee, Brannock declared: “Jennifer Agee’s family is never going to be the same. Jonathan Agee’s family is never going to be the same. My family is never going to be the same. It’s all because of the actions he took.”
Covati also showed footage from a car driven by the next state trooper to encounter Agee that day. The video showed that Agee had parked about a mile away from where he’d left Brannock and was standing on the interstate exit ramp with a rifle in one hand.
“He was yelling at me to shoot him and [said] he couldn’t live with what he did,” Sgt. Becky Curl testified, but she added she didn’t believe Agee.
“The way he held that weapon and the way he held his grip, there was no doubt in my mind what his intention was,” she said.
She said she spoke with him for some time (“One minute, eight seconds”) before she and other troopers, prompted by a movement Agee made, shot him.
“I said, ‘Did you shoot the trooper?’ and he said, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” Curl recalled. “He told me his name was Jonathan. That’s my son’s name. That was hard.”
In Virginia, convictions for first-degree murder, attempted capital murder and aggravated malicious wounding all carry sentences of 20 years to life in prison. Using a firearm to commit a felony has a mandatory minimum penalty of three years; a second offense carries a five-year mandatory minimum, but it remains unclear how the court will treat those separate charges.
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