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Defense attorney says his client is suspect in reporter's death

By Joe Beck and Sally Voth -- jbeck@nvdaily.com, svoth@nvdaily.com

The defense attorney for a Gainesville man who saw slain newspaper reporter Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh the night before her death said Friday police are treating his client as a suspect in the case.

Scott Hook of Warrenton spoke after John Sheldon Kearns, 49, was released from the Prince William County jail on $10,000 security bond following a hearing before Circuit Judge Richard B. Potter. Kearns has not been charged in Greenhalgh's death. The bond hearing concerned an accusation of a probation violation unrelated to the Greenhalgh investigation.

Police have refused to specifically identify Kearns as "a person of interest" in their investigation, although Hook and others have linked him to the case.

Hook provided the starkest assessment so far of where Kearns stands with police in the investigation.

Asked whether he believed police regard his client as a suspect, Hook replied, "In the interview process, they accused him of doing the crime and interviewed him for six hours. I would categorize that as a suspect."

Hook said police interviewed his client "three or four days" after Greenhalgh's body was discovered by firefighters on July 9 as her Upperville home burned.

Lt. James Hartman of the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office remained tight-lipped about the investigation Friday night.

"I am not going to respond to his comments," Hartman said of Hook. "I am not going to respond to anything a defense attorney has to say."

Police were called to the scene of the fire and classified Greenhalgh's death as a homicide within a few hours. They obtained a search warrant for an apartment at 7500 Equinox Landing Court in Gainesville where neighbors reported seeing Greenhalgh, a reporter for the Winchester Star, speaking with a man in the parking lot on the night of July 8. Court documents list Kearns as a resident of 7500 Equinox Landing Court.

Hook said Friday that Kearns had moved out of the apartment on Equinox Landing Court and was staying with family members in Fauquier and Culpeper counties.

In an interview on Thursday, Hook had described his client as "concerned" about the course of the investigation.

"He has been very cooperative with police in the investigation and will continue to cooperate," Hook said, adding his client had "no involvement" in Greenhalgh's death.

Hook said the accusation of a probation violation stemmed from a phone call Kearns made to his ex-wife about a joint-property issue after a protective order was issued banning him from such contact.

Hook said the phone call by Kearns to his ex-wife was "kind of a stupid thing for him to do."

Court records show the offense date as July 19, the same date that a final decree was issued in Prince William Circuit Court granting Debra Jane Kearns a divorce from John Kearns.

The divorce complaint states they were married on April 26, 2008 and lived in Haymarket until separating in July 2011.

The complaint accuses John Kearns of numerous instances of "violent and threatening behavior" that led Debra Kearns to obtain a protective order in August 2011 "based on family abuse for her son and herself."

The examples of threatening behavior cited in the complaint include an incident on July 31, 2011 when John Kearns allegedly "burned some of the plaintiff's personal belongings."

"On Aug. 5, 2011, defendant threatened to lie in wait for plaintiff at every church service at the parties' church so that he could force her to communicate with him," according to the complaint.

The complaint continues: "Defendant thereafter began telling third parties that he was going to kill Plaintiff as well as kill any police officers that attempted to serve Defendant with a protective order. He also told people that he is a dangerous man with nothing to lose."

Other parts of the complaint describe John Kearns as "highly skilled" in the marital arts and trained in Okinawa, Japan as "a 6th degree black belt in Okinawa Shorin Ryu, which is a combat-oriented fighting style."

The complaint accuses John Kearns of hitting his wife with "a palm strike" on the breast on Sept. 28, 2010, the same breast on which she had surgery to remove a lump the day before.

"This caused the plaintiff extreme pain and caused her to bleed profusely for 20 minutes and caused plaintiff to cry," according to the complaint.

A court document lists a conviction of assault and battery as the conviction that led to John Kearns being placed on probation.

Kearns is scheduled to appear in Prince William Circuit Court at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 6 for a hearing to determine whether he is guilty or not guilty of the probation violation.

1 Comment

"I am not going to respond to his comments," Hartman said of Hook. "I am not going to respond to anything a defense attorney has to say." - Lt. James Hartman

I LOVE this guy!

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