Ex-Culpeper cop convicted of manslaughter for on-duty shooting

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Local,Virginia,Crime,Naomi Jagoda

A former Culpeper police officer was found guilty Tuesday of voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed woman while on duty.

Daniel Harmon-Wright, 33, was also convicted of malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death. A Culpeper County jury acquitted him of another firearms charge.

On Feb. 9, 2012, Harmon-Wright responded to a call about a suspicious person in a Catholic school parking lot and fatally shot 54-year-old Patricia Cook. He fired seven shots at Cook while she was in her Jeep Wrangler.

During the trial, the defense argued that Harmon-Wright shot Cook because he perceived her to be a threat.

According to a lawyer for the former officer: Cook trapped Harmon-Wright's hand in one of the Jeep's windows and started driving. Harmon-Wright fired the first couple of shots in order to free his hand. He then fired the remaining shots because he saw the Jeep headed to a populated part of the town and thought that the public could be in danger.

However, the prosecution argued that Harmon-Wright's actions should be considered murder. Special prosecutor Jim Fisher said that Harmon-Wright's hand was not trapped when he shot Cook. Fisher also said that there was a break between the first two nonfatal shots that Harmon-Wright fired by the side of the Jeep, and the remaining five shots -- one of which struck her head and another of which struck her spine.

"[The verdict] vindicates her," Cook's brother, John Weigler, told TV station WJLA. "What happened on that day should not have happened."

Harmon-Wright was hired by the Culpeper Police Department in 2006 and was fired after he was indicted.

"I want to personally thank all those citizens who showed their support during this trying time," Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins said in a statement after the verdict was announced. "It meant so much to our department to know that so many of our citizens did not negatively judge the entire department because of this incident."

Harmon-Wright had been charged with murder, but jurors could decide whether to convict him of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter.

He faces up to 25 years in prison for his convictions, according to media reports. The jury is scheduled to return to Culpeper County Circuit Court on Wednesday to begin the sentencing phase of the case.

njagoda@washingtonexaminer.com

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