FRONT ROYAL — A judge sentenced a town woman to five years in prison Friday for setting fire to a veterans’ group’s headquarters in 2015.
Lesley Rose Deavers appeared in Warren County Circuit Court on Friday for a continuation of her sentencing hearing from last month.
Deavers maintained her innocence at the sentencing — a fact that Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. said kept him from considering a lesser punishment than the one recommended by the jury that convicted her.
“I still am innocent,” Deavers said when asked if she had any statements to make to the court. “I did not do it.”
A jury found Deavers guilty March 8 on one count each of arson of an occupied building and of embezzlement from the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Front Royal. The jury recommended the court sentence Deavers to five years in the state penitentiary for arson and six months in jail for embezzlement. Jurors also recommended that Deavers pay fines of $100,000 for arson and $2,500 for embezzlement. Athey heard testimony and arguments at Deavers’ sentencing hearing May 24 but continued the matter to Friday after he and attorneys raised questioned about fines versus restitution.
A fire destroyed the VFW post’s headquarters on July 11, 2015. Authorities investigated the fire and a grand jury indicted Deavers on charges of arson and embezzlement on Nov. 6, 2017. Authorities accused Deavers of stealing money from the VFW, her employer at the time, in the months leading up to the fire. Prosecutors claimed evidence showed Deavers set the fire to cover up the embezzlement.
At the Friday hearing, Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Madden told the judge that he and Deavers’ defense counsel had reached an agreement with regards to the fine-restitution matter. Parties agreed that the court should impose the $100,000 fine as recommended by the jury but suspend $40,000 of that amount. Additionally, the court would order Deavers to pay $40,000 in restitution to the veterans organization as part of the punishment in the embezzlement conviction.
Deavers’ attorneys Jason Ransom and Jonathan Sylvester along with Madden had sought to have the $100,000 fine converted to restitution. The defense attorneys did not want their client to have to pay both a fine and restitution.
Deavers plans to appeal the conviction, Sylvester told Athey. The agreement on fines and restitution does not mean she waives her right to appeal, Sylvester added.
Athey then proceeded to impose punishment. The court can impose punishment at or below, but not over, a jury’s recommendation. Sentencing guidelines suggest a punishment well below the jury’s recommendation, Athey said. The court takes the jury’s decision into great consideration, the judge said. At the same time, the court may decide on a sentence below the jury’s recommended punishment if the panel’s suggestion comes in much higher than what the court feels it should be, Athey explained. Other factors play a role in setting punishment such as whether or not the defendant expresses remorse for his or her actions or admits after trial to committing the crimes, Athey said.
“In this particular case, which is Ms. Deavers’ absolute right, her position throughout and at the pre-sentence investigation report is that she did not commit either of these acts,” Athey said. “She has taken that position throughout the trial, after the trial, and in the pre-sentence investigation report as she hasn’t shown really any remorse for the actions because it’s her position that she didn’t do it anyway.”
Athey reiterated that Deavers has the right to maintain her innocence. However, by taking that position, the court cannot consider the defendant’s remorse as a reason to reduce the jury’s punishment.
Athey said the court could find no reason to deviate from the jury’s recommendation for punishment.