- Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 16:27
- Published on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 16:27
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On Nov. 5, in the Circuit Court of Westmoreland County, James Whitney Harrison appeared for his trial before Judge Joseph J. Ellis.
Harrison, a short, round man with a beard like Santa Claus, was a familiar sight in Montross for a time, pushing his grocery cart with his worldly goods aboard. Then he was arrested for destruction of property, attempted breaking and entering with the intent to commit a misdemeanor and attempted statutory breaking and entering. It was not the first time he had been to court.
Harrison was always a difficult defendant. He is extremely hard of hearing; he does not understand a lot of what was going on; and he has a reputation for being belligerent.
His attorney, Jan C. Smith of Montross, when he was appointed to represent Harrison, first asked that Harrison be evaluated to determine whether he was mentally competent to stand trial. It was found that he was not competent, but that he could be restored to competence with proper treatment. He was sent off to receive treatment.
Finally, the word came that he had been restored to competence and a trial date was set. Harrison, who had been living alone in Montross before he was arrested, was released to the custody of his sister.
He came to court on Nov. 5, having signed a written plea agreement. He pled guilty to misdemeanor destruction of property. He pled guilty to a charge of trespassing, reduced from breaking and entering. The other charge was nolle prosequied — not pursued in court.
What was interesting, and different from every other court appearance Harrison had ever had, was that there was a hearing interpreter, Kimberly Krett, from Charlottesville, there to help him understand what was going on.
Judge Ellis had to ask certain questions to make sure the agreement was legal. “Do you read and write?” the judge asked.
The interpreter, who was sitting beside Harrison at the defendant’s table, wrote on her computer screen, “Do you read and write?”
“Yes, sir,” Harrison said, as calm as could be.
“Have you read the plea agreement?”
The interpreter writes on the screen.
“I can’t say I’ve read every word,” Harrison said.
“Did you understand it?” asked the judge.
And so it went. Calmly and without any belligerence on Harrison’s part at all.
The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, Joshua Boyles, gave a summary of the facts of the case. Harrison had come to the door of a resident of Montross several times, each time saying he needed to call 911 because of an emergency, but there would turn out to be no emergency. After several times, the resident refused to let him come into the house. He took a stool and broke the back door and came in.
Smith said his client believed that he needed medical services, that he was erratic at the time, and that he was now sorry.
After asking another series of questions about whether his pleas of guilty were knowing and voluntary, again with the help of the hearing interpreter, the judge sentenced Harrison in accordance with the plea agreement: 12 months in jail on each charge, with all the time suspended on one charge, and all but the time he had already served suspended on the other. He will have to be at peace and good behavior for 5 years, on supervised probation for 2 years. He will be required to take a mental health evaluation and do what he is advised by them to do. He will have to pay restitution for the damage he caused. Of course, if he fails to do any of the court’s requirements, he will be subject to going back to jail.
Harrison smiled, shook hands with his attorney, thanked the interpreter and left the courtroom with his custodian.