FRONT ROYAL -- Wanda Horton testified through tears Friday about how her son’s mental health deteriorated to a tipping point March 27, 2017, when he shot and killed her fiancee.
Now her 34-year-old son, David Glynn Hoyle Jr., must spend more than a decade in prison for the shooting death of Warren Ramsey at the Front Royal home they shared with Horton on Grand Avenue.
Hoyle appeared at the sentencing hearing in Warren County Circuit Court with his attorneys Ryan Nuzzo and Public Defender Timothy Coyne. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Anna Hammond prosecuted the case. Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. presided over the hearing.
Horton wept as she testified at Hoyle’s sentencing hearing, which took most of the day. Horton and Ramsey were high school sweethearts and reconnected at their high school reunion 30 years later, she recalled. They became engaged about eight years before his death, she said.
“I loved Warren ... he was my soulmate,” Horton said.
Horton later testified for the defense and recalled that shortly before the shooting, her son came downstairs and sat on a couch across from Ramsey. Horton said she then heard a popping noise. Horton recalled seeing Ramsey stand up, call her name, then collapse after he was shot. Moments later Hoyle let out a “blood-curdling” “no,” she testified. Horton said she grabbed the gun and threw it across the floor. Then she and Hoyle tried to perform CPR.
Horton said that her son suffered from mental illness for years leading up to the shooting. Horton described Hoyle as appearing paranoid and claiming that Ramsey crawled through a space above the basement and also wanted to kill him. However, Ramsey thought of Hoyle like a son and the two had a good relationship, Horton said.
“They had a very good relationship; just like father and son,” Horton testified for the defense.
Hoyle’s siblings echoed Horton’s testimony that their brother’s behavior changed in the months prior to the shooting. One sister told the court she was in the process of planning to commit Hoyle to a mental health facility before the shooting occurred.
Lt. Sarah Seal, records supervisor for the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, where Hoyle has remained incarcerated since his arrest shortly after the shooting, testified for the prosecution. Seal provided Hoyle’s disciplinary records for the court and testified as to certain incidents that required action by jail officials. Incidents included making threats to inmates and corrections officers and making “hooch” or homemade alcohol out of leftover food.
Hoyle spent roughly 770 days in the jail’s maximum security pod since his arrest, Coyne noted. Seal confirmed for Coyne that fights are not unusual in the pod and that Hoyle’s records reflect 29 actual incidents, four of which occurred in April. Some incidents did not result in an administrative hearing, Seal said. Hoyle was involved in two reported fights with inmates, one in which he sustained injuries, Seal confirmed. No incidents involved Hoyle physically assaulting an officer, she added.
Hammond then played the recording of the 911 call Horton made after the shooting. Horton can be heard yelling “he’s been shot,” and telling the emergency dispatcher that she’s trying cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Ramsey. The dispatcher can be heard telling Horton that responders are on their way, asking where the victim is bleeding and if he shot himself or if someone else shot him. Hoyle also can be heard in the background on the recording.
Hammond provided Ramsey’s autopsy that showed the victim suffered 11 bullet wounds to various parts of his body.
Clinical psychologist William Stejskal testified as to his evaluations of Hoyle. Stejskal met with Hoyle three times for a total of about eight hours, the last session occurring in February 2018, he testified. Stejskal said he reviewed Hoyle’s “extensive” medical and mental health records from 1991 that documented panic attacks, substance abuse, hospital emergency room visits and other situations. Stejskal said he also interviewed Horton and a sibling of Hoyle’s. The psychologist also reviewed audio and video recordings Hoyle had made in the months prior to the shooting.
Stejskal said he concluded that Hoyle suffered from depression and anxiety, adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and borderline personality disorder.
Hoyle had been prescribed alprazolam, a benzodiazepine commonly known as Xanax, Stejskal said. Hoyle’s substance abuse included a dependency on opioids and benzodiazepines as well as marijuana, Stejskal said.
At the time of the shooting, Hoyle suffered from delirium caused by the combination and dosage of his medications as well as recreational drugs, Stejskal testified. Delirium is not a permanent, mental state, he added.
Hoyle had also used heroin intravenously, went through a detoxification program through a Suboxone clinic in 2009 then relapsed, Stejskal said. Hoyle received services through the Northwestern Community Services Board in Front Royal but was released after the agency found he did not participate in the program, Stejskal added.
A psychiatrist misdiagnosed Hoyle as bipolar and prescribed medications including a higher-than-recommended dosage of alprazolam, a second benzodiazepine, and a stimulant to treat ADHD, Stejskal said. Records showed the psychiatrist prescribed Hoyle eight milligrams of alprazolam per day - far exceeding the maximum recommended amount of one milligram, Stejskal added.
Hoyle experienced paranoia and delusions leading up to the evening of the shooting, Stejskal said.
Hammond then asked Stejskal about Hoyle’s history of treatment at various clinics and if the defendant ever appeared to malinger in order to obtain medications. Stejskal said he didn’t see any indication of that behavior in his evaluation.
The court then viewed “bodycam” footage recorded at the residence by a responding police officer during which Hoyle could be heard saying “I didn’t want this” and “the evidence is in this thing right here” later identified by an investigator as a thumb drive used to store data. The court also viewed part of a video recorded during an investigator’s interview of Hoyle during which the defendant said Ramsey had abused him and his dog. Hoyle admitted to firing his 9 mm Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol at Ramsey.
The investigator repeatedly asked Hoyle why he shot Ramsey and the defendant could be heard saying Ramsey “tries to break me down in every physical and mental way he can.”
Front Royal police investigator Zachary King testified that officers recovered data cards and a thumb drive that contained videos Hoyle recorded of himself talking, expressing fear and also saying he would not hurt anyone in his family but might hurt himself.
Officers also recovered the firearm later determined to be the weapon used in the shooting. King testified that it appeared Hoyle had fired the weapon and emptied its magazine, given the position of the slide. Authorities recovered 10 cartridge casings and two bullets next to the body, King said. They also took possession of three more bullets during the autopsy, he added.
Another officer testified for the prosecution about a Nov. 29, 2016 incident in which Hoyle locked himself in his bedroom with three firearms he owned. Hoyle claimed his family would not let him leave. Horton later testified that many law enforcement officers responded and surrounded the house, blocked off the street and spent hours negotiating with her son. Hoyle came out about eight hours later, the officer testified. Authorities took Hoyle to Warren Memorial Hospital where he was held on an emergency custody order.
The Northwestern Community Services Board evaluated Hoyle, set up a safety plan and returned him to his father’s custody. Police confiscated Hoyle’s firearms but then returned the guns to him as they had no legal grounds to keep the weapons, the officer testified.
Horton said Hoyle eventually sold two of his guns to a friend who testified for the defense that he offered to buy the firearms after the incident. Hammond asked if the safety plan prescribed for her son called for him to not possess firearms, to which Horton said it did not.
After Hoyle’s siblings and a friend testified, the defendant took the stand. Hoyle recalled he dropped out of school in the ninth grade after years of being bullied. Hoyle went on to testify as to his mental health problems that Stejskal mentioned.
Hoyle explained he became addicted to opioids after he suffered a back injury. Hoyle also took painkillers after he sustained broken bones around his eye socket during an incident in which several people attacked him. Hoyle spent years undergoing treatment for addiction through a local Suboxone clinic. Eventually Hoyle started seeing a doctor in Northern Virginia who diagnosed him as bipolar, which turned out to be an improper diagnosis, he recalled.
Coyne has stated in court documents that Hoyle does not recall shooting Ramsey. Hoyle testified that he remembers “flashes” and hearing his mother screaming.
Hoyle testified through tears as to how he feels now about the shooting.
“I hate myself for what happened,” Hoyle said. “I feel terrible. I’m sorry.”
Hammond asked Hoyle about the incidents in the jail and referenced at least two times he used expletives at corrections officers. Hoyle admitted to being wrong on some occasions but provided excuses for others.
Hammond asked Hoyle if he would continue his treatment and take his prescribed medications as directed if released from prison. Hoyle said he would but not the medications that caused his mood to change leading up to the shooting.
Hammond later questioned Hoyle’s commitment to seeking and sticking to treatment for his mental health illnesses and substance abuse problems.
At their closing arguments, Hammond asked Athey to sentence Hoyle to serve 17 years in prison. Hammond argued that evidence and testimony showed Hoyle likely would not stick to treatment once released given his lack of commitment to such programs prior to the shooting.
The defense had argued that Hoyle needed ongoing treatment in a mental health facility, treatment that he cannot receive in prison.