FRONT ROYAL – The Warren County woman convicted of embezzling from a local veterans group then setting fire to its headquarters must wait another month to know her punishment.
Leslie Rose Deavers, 58, of Front Royal, remains held without bond at Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail. A jury found Deavers guilty on March 8 of felony arson of an occupied dwelling and misdemeanor embezzlement from the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Front Royal. The jury recommended Deavers serve the maximum time for arson of five years in prison and six months for embezzlement. Jurors also recommended Deavers pay a $100,000 fine.
State law gives a judge discretion to impose punishment up to a jury’s recommendation but not exceed it.
Deavers appeared for her sentencing hearing Friday in Warren County Circuit Court with her attorneys Jason Ransom and Jonathan Sylvester.
A debate ensued over whether or not Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. can convert the $100,000 fine to restitution, which ultimately would go to the veterans group. Athey said he did not think state code allows a judge to convert a fine to restitution if a jury did not and cannot recommend the latter.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden and Ransom said they had agreed to the request to convert the fine to restitution. Athey reiterated his concern and said he did not want to do what the law would not allow.
Athey heard arguments from both sides and decided to take the evidence and arguments presented at the sentencing hearing and postpone sentencing until June 21. Athey asked the attorneys to find case law that might say he, as a judge, could convert a fine to restitution and present the information to him at the June 21 hearing.
In their arguments for punishment, Madden asked Athey to impose the sentence recommended by the jury. Deavers committed a crime of violence — arson — that could have hurt someone, including the firefighters who fought the July 11, 2015, blaze that destroyed the group’s headquarters, Madden argued.
Ransom cited a pre-sentence report presented to the court that recommends Deavers serve probation with no time of incarceration. Deavers’ longtime boyfriend Ashby Spiker Jr. testified that she took care of their two young grandchildren who live with them. Deavers’ incarceration leaves the care of their grandchildren to him and other family members, Spiker said. The witness testified that Deavers’ time spent in jail since March has been tough on him and her. Spiker said he calls his girlfriend every day and often takes their grandchildren to see her. As for paying restitution or fines, Spiker told the court he could afford to make monthly payments of $1,000.
Ransom argued that Deavers should spend no time in jail as the pre-sentence report recommends. Rather, the court should suspend any jail or prison sentence and order Deavers to complete a period of probation during which time she would need to pay restitution in full, Ransom said. Failure to make regular payments would violate her probation and she could face serving some or all of the suspended time. Deavers would remain on probation until she paid the restitution.
Madden and Athey commented that fines help cover the expenses incurred by agencies involved in the investigation.
At the beginning of the sentencing hearing, Athey denied a defense motion to set aside the jury’s verdict. Athey noted that he read the motion and the reply brief filed by the prosecution.