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Sentencing in attempted capital murder case is postponed
Lawyers argued that jurors in Jeramiah Chamberlain's case were not instructed properly.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Jeramiah Chamberlain was convicted of attempted capital murder of a police officer and other charges after a shooting at his mother’s house in Christiansburg.
Monday, March 18, 2013
CHRISTIANSBURG — The sentencing of a Christiansburg man, who last year was convicted of attempted capital murder of a police officer, has been postponed after his new lawyers argued Monday that the jury instructions in the August trial were flawed.
Jeramiah Chamberlain, 32, was found guilty of attempted capital murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and maliciously discharging a firearm in an occupied dwelling. The jury in August recommended a sentence of 33 years on all counts.
The shooting incident on which the charges were brought happened at Chamberlain’s mother’s house on Ellett Drive on May 8, 2011. Christiansburg police officers went to the home to arrest Chamberlain on a warrant for a misdemeanor destruction of property charge. Chamberlain shot at Officer Christopher Wiscarson but missed, according to court testimony.
Chamberlain was scheduled to be sentenced Monday, but his lawyers, Tony Anderson and Melissa Friedman, entered a motion to set aside the attempted capital murder and use of a firearm convictions. The crux of the motion : The jury was not instructed on the elements that had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Anderson said.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Bobby Turk took the defense’s motion under advisement Monday. Turk is scheduled to announce his decision June 4, after the defense submits a brief and the prosecution has a chance to respond. If Turk accepts the motion, there will be a retrial on the two charges.
Anderson said the instructions stated that, in order to prove Chamberlain guilty, the jury had to find that he intended to kill Wiscarson. The instructions failed to state, however, that the intent had to be willful, deliberate and premeditated, which Anderson said are essential elements for any first-degree murder or capital murder charge.
“Without those elements being established, without being told what they mean … Mr. Chamberlain’s jury was not allowed to consider all the elements needed for a conviction,” Anderson said.
County Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Patrick Jensen argued that the components of capital murder are intent and a direct act.
“Our instructions satisfy these requirements,” Jensen said. “Specifically, intent to kill means willful, deliberate and premeditated.”
Anderson said the motion also discusses a potential defense that Chamberlain was not allowed to present to the jury in August. Chamberlain has stated that he was in methadone withdrawal on the day of the incident. Because of that, he was not able to formulate the necessary intent needed for a conviction, Anderson said.
Jensen said Chamberlain’s state of mind was not relevant during the trial because there was no insanity defense entered.
Chamberlain acted as his own attorney for part of his trial in August, as he did for a good part of an initial hearing in the case, which ended with a hung jury in May.
Chamberlain’s court-appointed lawyer, Will Clemons, acted as a standby attorney in the August trial, sitting in the front row of the gallery and occasionally nodding or shaking his head when Chamberlain looked to him for advice. Clemons was acting as Chamberlain’s attorney while the jury instructions were being discussed, Jensen said Monday.
According to testimony in August, when three officers arrived on the day of the incident, Chamberlain’s mother was crying and told the officers that Chamberlain was not at home.
Officer Christopher Roop yelled upstairs for Chamberlain to come out, Roop and others testified. Sgt. Stephen Swecker went to the back of the home, where he saw Chamberlain breaking out a window screen in an attempt to escape, Swecker said.
Swecker said he then radioed to Roop and Wiscarson, ordering them to enter the home because he had seen Chamberlain on the second floor.
According to testimony, Wiscarson led the way up the stairs, followed by Roop. By the time they reached the top of the stairs, they saw Chamberlain pointing a .357 revolver at them, they testified.
“Get the f--- out,” Chamberlain kept repeating, according to testimony from the officers.
Roop said he backed away to create distance. Wiscarson said he pulled out his firearm, at which point he and Chamberlain exchanged shots and both missed. After both temporarily took cover, Wiscarson said he stepped back out into the hallway, saw Chamberlain raise his gun again and fired a shot that hit Chamberlain in his right arm.
Chamberlain was treated at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and released about two weeks after the shooting. He has been held in the Western Virginia Regional Jail.
After the hearing Monday, Anderson said he and Friedman were hired by Chamberlain’s family to review the record of the jury trial “and determine if there was anything we could do.”
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