Court orders shed new light on Greenhalgh investigation

By Joe Beck

Newly released court documents show detectives have obtained 18 search warrants in Fauquier County during their investigation into the homicide of Winchester Star reporter Sarah Greenhalgh.

The documents shed new light on the investigation that began July 9, 2012 when Greenhalgh’s body was discovered during a fire at her Upperville home at 1208 Dunvegan Drive. Fauquier County law enforcement officials say they have identified a suspect, but have not publicly named him or her. No one has been arrested or charged in the case.

The details of the search warrants themselves remain under seal. The documents released by a Fauquier County Circuit Court judge Wednesday are sealing orders containing information on the person, place or thing to be searched. The documents also cite unspecified “demonstrated good cause required by the statute” as the basis for sealing the order at the request of Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher.

Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. ordered the documents unsealed after the Winchester Star sought to review them.

The documents add to evidence that a man linked to Greenhalgh just hours before her death has drawn heavy attention from police during the investigation.

The documents list John Sheldon Kearns, 50, as the subject of at least two search warrants. One warrant describes the location to be searched as “the body of John Sheldon Kearns.” The other specifies a cell phone number under Kearns’ name.

Two other documents give email accounts, one with Yahoo! and the other with Gmail, bearing the name jkearns.

Kearns also was the subject of a search warrant executed at his Gainesville apartment in Prince William County in the days following Greenhalgh’s death. Items seized included a cellphone and t-shirt.

Scott C. Hook, a Warrenton attorney representing Kearns at the time, said his client had been subjected to an intense six-hour police interrogation that made it clear Kearns was a suspect in Greenhalgh’s death.

Witnesses also reported seeing Greenhalgh and Kearns arguing outside his apartment in Gainesville the night before her death.

The search warrant in Prince Williams County is now under seal.

The Fauquier County documents also list a 2012 Jeep Wrangler owned by a woman identified only as Joanne Ellen Petrizzo as the subject of one of the search warrants. Other search warrants were obtained for computers and cell phones, Greenhalgh’s Facebook account, her AT&T wireless account and her home, which has since been demolished.

The sealing orders, several of which have been reissued in the last two weeks, state that the search warrant details are to remain sealed “until further order of the court” or five years since the order was imposed.

Two of the search warrants were obtained as recently as Feb. 12. The earliest warrants were obtained on July 9, the day of Greenhalgh’s death.

Lt. James Hartman of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office said in an interview Friday that the investigation remains “current, open and active.”

Hartman would not comment on the search warrant sealing orders.

“It would be detrimental to the investigation,” Hartman said. “I can’t comment further.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com