A Chesterfield County, Virginia teen who never got over the death of his father in a drunken-driving crash eight years ago was sentenced Thursday to serve time in a state juvenile center for killing a close friend in a alcohol-related crash last June. Aaron N. Spangler, who was 17 at the time of the crash, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on his conviction of involuntary manslaughter and to an additional 12 months for driving under the influence of alcohol. But in a move designed to salvage the teen’s life while punishing him for his mistake, Circuit Judge Michael C. Allen suspended both sentences for 20 years on the condition he be committed indefinitely to the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. Spangler could remain in a juvenile correctional center until his 21st birthday, but the court will review his case in two years. The judge also ordered Spangler to pay $90,000 in restitution — at a minimum of $100 a month — for the health care his friend Chris Matherly received before he died. Matherly had no health insurance. Spangler was declared a “serious offender” under a Virginia law that allows a judge to give a defendant who was younger than 18 at the time of the offense a blended sentence of both juvenile and adult punishment. Chesterfield prosecutor B.J. McGee and defense attorney Kevin D. Purnell agreed on the arrangement — which McGee declared unusual — but the prosecutor wanted more incarceration time to send a message of deterrence to the community. Spangler “as a person doesn’t deserve it,” McGee told the court. “But his actions do.” Spangler, who was a senior at Clover Hill High School when the crash occurred, was described by the school’s principal, his guidance counselor, his mother and others as a quiet, kind and caring young man who never fully got over the death of his father when he was just 10. About eight years ago, Spangler’s father — grieving over the death of his own dad about three weeks earlier — went to a bar to drink away his sorrow. Later that evening, he crashed into an embankment in Alabama and was critically injured, later dying on Christmas Day, Purnell said. Hours before the crash, Spangler’s father had given his son the option of going with him or staying at his cousin’s house to play video games. Aaron stayed behind. “He felt responsible,” Diona Lawson, Spangler’s mother, told the court. Spangler got into trouble at school for drinking his freshman year and admitted to occasionally smoking marijuana, according to testimony. He did both June 11, hours before the crash. After drinking for 30 minutes that afternoon at a friend’s house, Spangler made a couple of stops in his mother’s 2007 Toyota Camry, visiting another friend and buying food and cigarettes at a nearby 7-Eleven. He picked up Matherly, 18, and another friend, 14, and the three ended up driving south in the 800 block of Courthouse Road very early the next morning. While rounding a curve there at about 70 mph, Spangler lost control and the car crossed over the center median into the northbound lanes. The vehicle veered off the road, struck a culvert and went airborne before slamming into a tree, landing on its roof. Matherly, sitting behind Spangler, was critically injured. He died the next day at VCU Medical Center. “I wish there was a magic way we could all go back,” Matherly’s mother, Jenna Schaeffer, told the court in tearful testimony.
Kenneth Davis, Vernon Jackson, and unnamed 13 year old
17-year-old boy authorities say was responsible for initiating the kicking and beating death of an elderly Tempe man in Lynchburg, Va. was found guilty of first-degree murder. Kenneth Davis, who was 16 at the time of the crime, was found guilty of the charge by a jury in Lynchburg Circuit Court in a crowded courtroom on Thursday in connection to the death of George Baker III, 81. The jury deliberated for about an hour and 40 minutes, according to Jeff Bennett, an attorney in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s District Attorney’s Office. Police say Davis and Vernon Jackson, both 16 at the time of the crime, and a 13-year-old boy attacked and beat Baker in downtown Lynchburg as he was walking to a restaurant the evening after his granddaughter’s wedding on Sept. 5. Baker died hours later at a nearby hospital. Police say Davis told his friends he was walking with that night, “I’m going to hit the next person I see,” and initiated the crime to impress a girl. Davis is the second teenager to be found guilty of first-degree murder in Baker’s death and will be sentenced on May 20. Teenagers being convicted of first-degree murder is not a very common occurrence in Virginia, according to Bennett, who prosecuted the case. “This is the first time I’ve prosecuted a juvenile for first-degree murder, and the first one that I know of in my nine years here,” Bennett said. “The evidence that came up in court was that the attack was essentially Davis’ idea.” Davis did not testify during his trial, Bennett said. Davis’ attorney, Gordon Peters Jr., could not be reached for comment. Last week, the 13-year-old boy, who now is 14 and is not being named, also was found guilty of first-degree murder by a judge in the Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. He will be sentenced on April 6 in Lynchburg’s Juvenile Domestic Relations Court. Under Virginia state law, he cannot face life in prison but could be held until he is 21, according to Mike Dousette, an attorney in the Virginia Commonwealth’s district attorney’s office. The trial of Vernon Jackson, the other 16-year-old who participated in the attack on Baker, was scheduled to begin on Monday, but has been rescheduled for April, according to information from the Lynchburg Circuit Court. He also has been charged with first-degree murder. Davis and Jackson are being held in the Blue Ridge Regional Jail.