Couple’s arson linked to probate dispute

WOODSTOCK – A couple involved in a protracted struggle for control of property where a barn burned to the ground pleaded guilty Wednesday to arson in Shenandoah County Circuit Court.

Dolly Jean Wimer, 44, and her husband, Robert Dale Wimer, 45, were sentenced to two years supervised probation each. They will serve no time behind bars under terms of the plea agreement, which included a suspended prison sentence of three years each.

Dolly Wimer, formerly known as Dolly McAvoy, has been embroiled in a legal struggle for control of 227 acres that was deeded to her by Robert Wine a year before his death in 2011. Wimer had been working for Wine since 2002. He granted her power of attorney, which allows one person to act on behalf of another person under various circumstances.

Anna Johnston, the sister of Wine, contested Wine’s will and deed to the property, arguing in a lawsuit that Wimer had taken advantage of Wine by steering him into granting her ownership of the property after his death.

A Rockingham County Circuit Court jury sided with Johnston, days before the fire on the July 27, 2014.

A subsequent judge’s ruling in favor of the Wimers swung the legal battle toward them, and Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda McDonald Wiseley told Shenandoah County Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp that, despite the jury’s finding, the Wimers now owned the property.

Wiseley told Hupp that Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson used records of cell phone calls by the Wimers to track their whereabouts during the fire. The data contradicted assertions by the Wimers that they had been far away in Page County when the fire started. Instead, the data showed that their cell phone signal had bounced off a transmission tower within a half-mile of the property, Wiseley said.

Wiseley said a witness arriving at the scene of the fire saw an SUV parked in a nearby field that matched the appearance of an SUV occupied by the Wimers when they appeared later on.

Wiseley also cited as evidence phone calls the Wimers made to an insurance company asking how soon the company would be sending their policy payout cover the loss of the structure. The 9,200 square foot barn and a tractor inside were insured for a combined $100,000.

Hupp, who heard part of the lawsuit for control of the property in 2013, said he had “reservations” about the plea agreement, but agreed to accept it.

Hupp’s role in the case included an order to exhume Wine’s body to address Johnston’s suspicions about the circumstances of her brother’s death.

Hupp said at the time he could see “possible motive for foul play in that hastening the death of Mr. Wine would remove his life estate in real estate and advance the date upon which (Wimer) would accede to the rest of the estate.”

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas examined Wine’s body and declared he died a natural death from heart disease.

Hupp said the Wimers’ willingness to set fire to the barn within days after the jury had sided with Johnston in her lawsuit bothered him.

“It shows a lot of spite to me,” Hupp said.

Arsonists risk the lives of firefighters, Hupp said.

“Every time they fight a fire, specifically at a structure fire like that, they are in danger. I’m very sensitive to that,” Hupp said, adding that he has a son who works as a firefighter and EMT.

Wiseley said another couple charged with arson, Robert Lee Price and Cindy Marie Price, have confessed to their role in the fire. Their case is still pending.

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