ROCKY MOUNT, Va. - Former Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt was convicted of misconduct Tuesday for failing to warn other authorities that one of his deputies planned to kill his ex-wife.
A Franklin County General District Court judge convicted Hunt after a bench trial of misconduct by an elected official, a misdemeanor. Media outlets report that Hunt must pay a $500 fine. A 30-day jail sentence was suspended.
Hunt's attorney, Bill Stanley, said they plan to appeal.
The charge stems from Hunt's handling of warnings that Deputy Jonathan Agee was driving his patrol car to Salem with a rifle intending to kill his ex-wife, Jennifer Agee, on Memorial Day 2011. Jonathan Agee is awaiting trial on charges of killing his ex-wife and shooting a Virginia State Police sergeant in the leg during a chase that followed.
During Tuesday's trial, Stanley argued that the 24 minutes between when Hunt learned Agee was armed and looking for his ex-wife and when she was gunned down at a Roanoke gas station were filled with chaos and confusion but that Hunt did try to warn others. Stanley argued that those who said Hunt did not do enough to prevent the shooting were engaging in "a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking."
According to 911 tapes played in court, Agee's wife called dispatch to report that he had left in his police cruiser, loaded with guns, threatening to kill Jennifer Agee.
Jonathan Agee's father, Steve Agee, testified that he also called Hunt that day to tell the sheriff that his son was upset and was going to meet his ex-wife. Steve Agee asked Hunt to intervene, and he testified that Hunt said "he'd do everything he could to stop him."
In a recording played by prosecutors, a Franklin County dispatcher is told by his sergeant to notify Salem and Roanoke County authorities of Agee, then later told by Hunt, "No, no. Let me call them, let me call them."
A Virginia State Police officer testified that Hunt called Salem officials and left a message for a supervisor to return his call. Hunt also left a message for his deputy.
"He told Agee (on voicemail) he had too much to live for and they could talk it out," Special Agent Steve Oliver recalled, according to The Roanoke Times ( http://bit.ly/QRIuIc).
Salem Police Chief Jeff Dudley said at the time that Hunt's call to his dispatch office conveyed "no sense of urgency, and he did not indicate there was any kind of emergency."
Oliver said Hunt had not issued a "be on the lookout" alert because he said he was waiting to hear from Salem police. A sheriff's office radio call log showed that Hunt told dispatchers not to issue the alert and "not to mention anything."
Stanley argued Hunt's only intention was that the alert not be sent to the public.
Minutes later, Jennifer Agee was shot five times at point blank range in the gas station parking lot. Less than an hour later, former state police Sgt. Matthew Brannock was shot and wounded while pursuing Agee on Interstate 81 in Montgomery County.
In the months afterward, Hunt lost his bid for re-election to Bill Overton. In May, a wrongful death lawsuit against Hunt by Jennifer Agee's estate was settled. Jennifer Agee's two children will receive $900,000 from that settlement.
Hunt had faced up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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