RICHMOND — Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico County, entered an Alford plea Friday to a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and was sentenced to 12 months in jail with six suspended but will be allowed to participate in a work-release program and could be free after three months.
An Alford plea acknowledges the prosecution has evidence sufficient for a conviction but does not concede guilt on the charge stemming from accusations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl who worked in his law office. The special prosecutor in the case told reporters after the hearing that the girl, now 18, is pregnant and that Morrissey is “perhaps” the father.
Morrissey, who had been scheduled to go on trial Monday and faced up to 41 years in prison on felony charges, entered the plea and was sentenced by Judge Martin Bass. He will be allowed to engage in a work-release program under which he would continue to work as a legislator and lawyer while spending nights in the jail, said his attorney, Anthony Troy. Only a felony conviction would disqualify a person from serving in the legislature, according to state law.
Offenders sentenced for misdemeanors can earn one day of good time for every day they serve in jail, if they follow the jail’s rules. That means they often serve about half of their sentence. Troy has requested that Morrissey be allowed to serve his sentence in the Richmond City Jail.
After the hearing, Special Prosecutor William Neely told reporters that the former Morrissey employee is pregnant and that the lawyer “perhaps” is the father. He also said that the young woman and her mother spent Thursday night at Morrissey’s residence under the surveillance of Henrico police detectives.
Neely said that by making the plea, Morrissey is acknowledging he had sexual intercourse with the 17-year-old. While it is not a crime in Virginia for a girl 15 and older to have sex with an adult, it is illegal if the adult is in a supervisory position, as Morrissey was with the law office employee.
Morrissey was being processed at the Henrico County Jail as of approximately 3 p.m. and it was not immediately clear whether Troy’s request that Morrissey’s sentence be served in Richmond would be honored, said Sheriff Mike Wade.
Morrissey was indicted June 30, setting in motion a whirlwind of legal maneuvering by his defense team, which has consisted of as many as six attorneys. A key defense argument has been that a third party hacked information from the alleged victim’s cellphone and sent it to others.
The 57-year-old lawmaker, who represents Charles City County and parts of Henrico and the city of Richmond, is a former Richmond commonwealth’s attorney.
He has been a magnet for controversy for decades. He is the father of three children, each born out of wedlock and decades apart in age; he lost his license to practice law and is infamous for a courthouse fistfight 23 years ago that he undertook with flamboyant defense attorney David Baugh.
The relationship with the 17-year-old, who turned 18 this past March, came to public attention on Aug. 20, 2013, when Henrico police converged on Morrissey’s home near Virginia Center Commons.
The teenager’s father had come to the home furious that his daughter was with Morrissey and had called police. Morrissey and the young woman were found together, but there has been no physical evidence that they were sexually involved at the time.
Neely, though, would release information after the indictments saying that Morrissey had sex with the young woman in his law office Aug. 20 and subsequently sent out text messages to friends confirming a “sexual encounter.”
Morrissey subsequently claimed that he thought the young woman was 22, but legal documents filed in connection with the criminal charges include a stipulation that Morrissey knew or should have known that the young woman was a minor.
The indictments issued against Morrissey claimed that he sexually abused a minor while in a custodial relationship from Aug. 20 through 23 last year.
The other felonies allege Morrissey solicited sexual images of the girl, that he possessed such an image and also that he distributed it to another party.
The misdemeanor charge alleges that he contributed to the delinquency of a minor.