By Joe Beck
A 48-year-old Stephens City man was sentenced to slightly less than a year of home detention for his involvement in a drug case that led to the hospitalization of a 14-year-old boy for a suspected heroin overdose.
The case also involved a 17-year-old boy who authorities believe obtained the drug for the other boy and ingested it with him and the defendant, Michael Wallace Windsor.
Windsor appeared befuddled at several points during the hearing before visiting Judge Benjamin Kendrick in Frederick County Circuit Court. After extended questioning from Kendrick about his understanding of the proceedings, Wallace entered an Alford guilty plea to a single charge of child abuse or neglect involving reckless behavior that placed a child's health and welfare at risk.
Under an Alford plea, a defendant agrees to plead guilty without admitting guilt. Its purpose is to allow the defendant to maintain his innocence while acknowledging there is enough evidence for conviction by a jury.
Four other charges of child abuse or neglect, two each involving the two boys, were dropped.
Windsor's sentence of 11 months and 20 days of home detention also includes a year of supervised probation and one year of unsupervised probation. The home detention is part of a five-year prison sentence, the remainder of which was suspended.
Authorities described Windsor as the boyfriend of the 14-year-old's grandmother, therefore making him a guardian responsible for the child's well-being under state law. They said the 17-year-old was a friend of the 14-year-old.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Andrew M. Robbins told Kendrick that he was prepared to prove at trial that Windsor and the two boys had traveled in a van to a convenience store on June 26. The 17-year-old left the van and obtained some heroin from someone around the store, then returned to the van, Robbins said.
Windsor then drove the two boys down a dead end street where all three ingested the heroin, Robbins said.
The 14-year-old became ill after ingesting the drug and was taken to the emergency room at Winchester Medical Center, Robbins said.
"It was obvious what he was doing was causing some physical harm," Robbins said of the 14-year-old.
Robbins said a doctor at the hospital treated the boy for a drug overdose, and he made a full recovery without requiring an extended hospital stay.
Windsor struggled in responding to questions from Kendrick as to whether he understood the terms of the plea agreement, especially the Alford plea. At one point, Kendrick ordered him to consult privately with his attorney, David Downes of Front Royal, to review the Alford plea.
Downes wrote out a statement for his client to read, but it took several more minutes before Kendrick was satisfied with Windsor's response.
In interviews after the hearing, Robbins and Downes both cited uncertainty about the quality of the testimony they might have heard on the witness stand as a reason for forgoing a trial.
Downes said his client was suffering from memory lapses that he attributed to lingering symptoms of Lyme disease that he contracted years ago.
"The court has already seen my client's inability to recall facts," Downes said
Robbins said he was concerned about subjecting the 14-year-old boy to potentially harsh questioning on the witness stand about his credibility and character.
"The kid's already been through a lot," Robbins said.
Robbins said he was also worried about the absence of lab results that could have definitely proved the boys had ingested heroin. Without such evidence, it would be hard to build a case proving exactly what drug, if any, they had taken, Robbins said.
"How do we know it's not saline solution?" Robbins asked.
Capt. Allen Sibert of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office said in an interview it was "unusual" for someone as young as the 14-year-old to be taking heroin, although the drug is "prevalent in and around our community."
"The young teens, it is uncommon," Sibert said. "Most drug users, whether an addict or social users, do not begin their drug career, so to speak, with harsh drugs."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org