RICHMOND, Va. -- A bill that would stiffen penalties for those who murder a law enforcement officer is another step closer to becoming law.
Del. Todd Pillion’s version of the bill, which was previously approved in the House, passed the Senate Wednesday by a vote of 21-18.
It calls for any adult (18 or older) convicted of capital murder in Virginia to serve a minimum of life in prison.
The bill has been enrolled and sent to Gov. Ralph Northam, who is expected to sign it into law.
Sen. Bill Carrico’s legislation, which is specific to people who kill members of law enforcement, is scheduled to be voted on in the House Monday, and is also expected to pass.
The bill was inspired by the murder of Special Agent Mike Walter who was shot while on patrol in the city of Richmond May 26, 2017.
“I don’t want a family to go through this ever again,” said Mike’s wife Jaime Walter. “I know I can’t change it for my husband, but I need to change it for other law enforcement officers.”
Senator Bill Carrico and Delegate Todd Pillion heard Jaime’s pleas for change and drafted companion bills that would prohibit the reduction of a capital murder charge when it involves a law enforcement officer.
“I knew that we had do something legislatively to rectify this problem because anyone who takes measures to kill a police officer is going to kill anybody,” said Sen. Bill Carrico (R), Bristol. “When she was on camera talking about it made me think of my own wife when I was there and how much they stay up at night and worry how much they get that anxiety feeling when they hear a text or siren because they don't know for sure if that's the call they're can get that that’s their husband or family members.”
“This bill basically takes the capital murder section of the code that deals with the killing of a law enforcement officer it takes away prosecutorial discretion it makes them charge a lesser if they feel that it's not capital murder,” explained Carrico. “If they charge capital murder, it carries a sentence of life or death. This doesn't allow a judge or jury to make it 33 years or whatever. It makes it permanently life or a death sentence.”
The bill would ensure the Commonwealth is committed to a capital offense once charged. The uncontested bill was amended by the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice which referred the bill to the Finance Committee and added sentencing language that would make the minimum sentence for the offense life in prison if convicted.
The House version of the bill, which was amended to include all Capital offenses and not just when it involves law enforcement, advanced to its third reading on Monday. It will be voted on Tuesday.
“I think it’s amazing I think it’s a great first step we’re on the way to get this bill changed for our law enforcement,” said Jaime. “I realize it can’t be changed for me or my family but it will be changed for future law enforcement.”
“Mike would say you got this. I believe that he’s here with me right now pushing me and guiding me and holding my hand and I think he’s doing that for all of us,” she added.
Widows of fallen troopers have been testifying to show their support of the bill. Including Walter, Michelle Dermyer and Betty Walker.
Trooper Chad Dermyer was fatally shot during a training exercise at the Greyhound station in Richmond in March 2016.
Master Trooper Junius Walker was shot on Interstate 85 in Dinwiddie in March 2013.
Carrico is a retired Virginia State Police senior trooper who patrolled the same streets as Mike Walter.
“I’ve walked in their shoes I’ve stood in Mosby and Gilpin Court, I worked undercover for a year in the city of Richmond I know what it's like,” said Carrico.
Carrico also has a son who is a member of the Virginia State Police tactical team.
“I do have a vested interest in this. I am a father of a police officer I am a former police officer so it does hit home for me.”
“If you are making a decision you are going to kill police officer, we are not going to let you out of prison or we are going to put you to death.”
“This can be problematic in many ways one is it could tie the hands of a Commonwealth’s attorney,” said CBS 6 legal analyst and former prosecutor Todd Stone.
“That’s not really an appropriate thing for the General Assembly to be doing because only a prosecutor knows what their evidence establishes and what it can prove if they go to trial and taking that discretion away from prosecutors makes the system less efficient,” Stone added.
“I don't believe that,” said Carrico. “I think it makes them make a decision which they don't want to do.”
“When a police officer gets killed it’s a horrible thing but not every case is provable. Some cases are probably provable but not a slam dunk and in those cases where they are probably provable if a prosecutor is hamstrung so they can not have any flexibility in what they do with that case then the General Assembly has probably put that case in a situation where somebody would end up getting less time then they might have ordinarily gotten if this wasn’t there,” said Stone.
“If their case starts falling apart they have the option to nolle prosse and get another charge,” said Carrico. “Commonwealth attorneys that want to have a the prosecutorial discretion and want to oppose this are going to have to deal with those law-enforcement families when they do this,” said Carrico.
“They have to step up and they have to prove this because the next time they need help who are they going to call they’re going to call 911 and that officer is going to help them they shouldn’t have to worry about them being harmed,” said Jaime.
Jaime says this is the first of many steps in healing her broken family while sending a message to law enforcement and her children.
“I think if they see this bill go through and if they see these lawmakers on either side working together to change these laws and hold these people accountable, I think they’ll have more faith in the world more faith in the justice system.”
Jaime says that faith was lost the October day her children realized they will one day walk the same streets as their father’s killer.
“If you were in my situation what would you tell your children about accountability? Because, we tell them they have to be accountable but our laws are saying that they’re not and we have to change that,” said Jaime.
“Maybe there can be some sort of closure to know we as a family were able to make a change and I think that’s where we need to start we can help others and pay it forward to what people have done for us,” said Jaime. “It’s got to pass, because we have to protect and serve our police officers as well as they protect and serve us.”
“Lets be realistic, police are being targeted today you're not just being randomly shot because of an incident they're being targeted. We as a society are going to have to step up and say we’re not doing this and this bill sends that message,” said Carrico.
Jaime’s ultimate goal is to making murdering a law enforcement officer a federal offense.
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