Trial to begin for Culpeper ex-cop charged with shooting fleeing woman on duty

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Local,Virginia,Crime,Naomi Jagoda

The trial of a former Culpeper police officer accused of murdering a 54-year-old unarmed woman while on duty is scheduled to begin this week.

Daniel Harmon-Wright, 33, was indicted in May on charges of murder, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

On Feb. 9, 2012, authorities say, Harmon-Wright responded to a suspicious-person call and approached Patricia Cook while she was in a Jeep Wrangler in a Catholic school parking lot in Culpeper, a town of 16,000 about 70 miles from Washington. During the encounter, Harmon-Wright fatally shot Cook.

Shortly after the shooting, Virginia State police had said that Cook had trapped Harmon-Wright's arm in the window of her Jeep and then started driving, dragging the officer. Police had said that Harmon-Wright allegedly shot Cook because she refused to stop driving.

But that account of the incident has been disputed. A multimillion dollar wrongful death lawsuit filed by Cook's husband claimed that the officer's arm was never trapped and that he was never dragged by the vehicle.

Prosecutors have said that Harmon-Wright shot Cook seven times. The first two shots were not fatal, but Harmon-Wright then fired five more shots as Cook tried to drive away. One of these bullets struck her head while another struck her spine.

Harmon-Wright, who had served in the Marines and had a history of alcohol abuse, was hired by the Culpeper Police Department in 2006 over the objections of a sergeant and lieutenant, according to media reports. He was fired from the police department after he was indicted.

Jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday in Culpeper County Circuit Court, which has set aside 10 days for the trial.

If the jury decides not to convict Harmon-Wright of first-degree murder, it could decide to convict him of second-degree murder or manslaughter. If convicted of first-degree murder, Harmon-Wright could be sentenced to life in prison.

njagoda@washingtonexaminer.com

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Naomi Jagoda

Staff reporter
The Washington Examiner