The second defendant in a grueling Franklin County capital murder case was scheduled to be sentenced this week, but that hearing has now been put off until next year.
The case involves John Isaiah Hodges, who in 2017 was charged with his friend Aaron Seth Dean in the fatal shooting and robbery of a Rocky Mount teenager.
Hodges ultimately was indicted as an accomplice, while Dean last year pleaded guilty to more serious offenses, including capital murder and robbery. Now 22, Dean is currently serving three life terms plus 48 years in prison.
In April, Hodges went to trial in Franklin County and was found guilty by a jury of four felonies: accessory to capital murder, robbery, armed burglary and grand larceny of firearms.
Hodges, 21, could face punishments that range from 45 years in prison to up to three life terms.
He was slated to be sentenced Tuesday, but sometime last week his case was rescheduled to a new date: Jan. 23, 2020.
There was not a court hearing on the continuance and the reason for the five-month delay remains unclear. Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney A.J. Dudley did not respond to calls last week; Hodges’ defense attorney, Patrick Kenney, said Friday he could not comment on the pending case.
Hodges’ guilt was determined by a jury after three days of hearing highly emotional testimony from both sides. But after two hours of deliberating on a sentence, an unusual twist occurred when jurors announced to Judge Clyde Perdue that they had reached “an inability to tender … a recommended punishment within the range set forth in the instructions,” suggesting they likely wanted to go below the 45-year minimum.
Virginia code says that if a jury cannot arrive at a punishment on its own, the judge can set it using sentencing guidelines, as would happen in a bench trial. Perdue dismissed the jury, then entered an order for a pre-sentencing report to be conducted. Such reports consider a defendant’s criminal history and calculate recommended punishments, and usually take two to three months to complete.
While jurors must follow state statutes in their sentencing recommendations, such as minimum terms, judges are allowed to suspend time against a defendant or run sentences concurrently.
Sunday marked the second anniversary of the crimes that sparked the case.
On Aug. 18, 2017, Dean and Hodges went to visit 18-year-old Allyn Riddle at his home on family land in Rocky Mount. The three of them chatted for a while, then Dean ambushed Riddle with a sawed-off shotgun, shooting him dead in his bathroom while Riddle reportedly got ready to go to work.
Dean and Hodges left the property with more than a half-dozen of Riddle’s firearms, mostly hunting rifles that had been in his family for decades. It was later revealed they had devised a strange, bare-bones plot to use those weapons to become vigilantes who targeted drug dealers.
During Hodges’ trial, the extent of his knowledge and involvement in the crimes was the primary subject of debate.
The day after the killing, Hodges voluntarily went to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and for three hours spoke to Investigator Holly Willoughby about Riddle’s death. He told Willoughby he had believed they were simply going to steal weapons from Riddle.
During intensified questioning, he volunteered that he gave signals to Dean while Dean was retrieving the shotgun from the car. He also said he was aware that Dean didn’t want to leave “any living witnesses,” but claimed he tried to talk Dean out of killing Riddle when he suspected that might happen.
Soon after Hodges’ statement to police, and his subsequent arrest, Dean was also taken into custody and reportedly gave his own lengthy confession.
At Hodges’ trial, Dean testified in his friend’s defense and claimed he had not told Hodges of his plans.
In a quiet, halting voice, Dean told the court he did not have “a satisfactory answer” for the motivations behind the crimes.
“I suppose I thought by killing Allyn and taking his guns, it would be a dry run to see what I was capable of,” Dean said.