Couple convicted of vandalism in barn fire

WOODSTOCK – A New Market couple was sentenced Friday to 25 hours each of community service in the town fire department for their role in a fire that was originally charged as arson, but ended with them convicted for misdemeanor vandalism.

The case of Robert Lee Price, Cindy Marie Price and two other defendants sentenced on June 1 was linked to probate lawsuits waged in two counties over four years.

Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp noted the tangled history of the lawsuit and his own role in it, which included ordering a body exhumed to check for signs of foul play.

“This whole situation has had a lot of twists and turns,” Hupp said, adding, “It’s been a continuing saga.”

The Prices were drawn into the case on the night of July 27, 2014, when a fire destroyed a 9,200-square-foot barn on land that had been the subject of a dispute over control of the estate of a man who had died in 2011.

An 11-month investigation ended with arson charges filed against the Prices, Dolly Jean Wimer and her husband Robert Dale Wimer. The Wimers pleaded guilty in June to arson charges and were sentenced to two years supervised probation. The four defendants were initially charged with a total of 17 felonies.

The barn and a tractor that was also destroyed in fire were insured for a combined $100,000.

The fire was set days after a woman challenging Wimer for control of the estate had gained the upper hand in a related lawsuit in Rockingham County. A jury found in favor of Anna Johnston, the sister of Robert Wine. Johnston asserted that Wimer had manipulated the ailing Wine into granting her ownership of his property upon his death.

The trial was preceded by an order from Hupp that Wine’s body be exhumed to ensure that Wimer, then known as Dolly McAvoy, had done nothing to hasten his death. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas examined the body and ruled that Wine had died of heart disease.

The case did not end with the jury trial and its favorable outcome for Johnston. Months later, a Rockingham County judge ruled in favor of the Wimers and effectively gave control of the 227 acres to Dolly Wimer.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kristen Zalenski told Hupp that the outcome of the Rockingham County lawsuit that eventually gave the Wimers control of the property, combined with the willingness of the Prices to cooperate with the law enforcement investigation, led her to reduce the arson charges against the Prices to a single count of misdemeanor vandalism for each of them.

The 25 hours of community service at the New Market Fire Department will involve running bingo games. The New Market department was chosen for the community service because its firefighters were the first to arrive at the fire scene.

Both Prices also received a six-month suspended jail sentence and one year unsupervised probation.

Both of their guilty pleas were entered as Alford pleas, which means they continue to insist on their innocence while acknowledging the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them.

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