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Guilty verdicts against former sheriff are reversed

by Larry S. Chowning

“I think of all the thousands of dollars I have saved this county and now this trial has blown it all away. Can you imagine what this has cost the taxpayers… and for what?” — Former Sheriff Guy Abbott

A variety of emotions ran high in the Middlesex County Courthouse last week after Judge Paul Sheridan reversed two felony convictions of bribery against former county sheriff Guy L. Abbott.

Inside the courtroom, there were cheers, tears, astonishment and fear.

Abbott’s wife cried with joy at the outcome.

Virginia Assistant Attorney General Shannon Dion felt she needed an escort to her car with a state trooper by her side.

Right before Judge Sheridan reversed his decision, he said, “I know the community has been torn into factions over this case.”

Defense attorney Craig Cooley argued there was no indication of bribery in any of the court testimony. He said Abbott knowingly received funds with no clear intent to “punish those if they did not do what they were told.”

The bribery statue requires there must be clear intent on both sides, argued Cooley. 

The judge then accepted Cooley’s argument and said the bribery statue has so many elements and requires more than an unspoken agreement that was the basis of the transaction. “Therefore I acquit him (Abbott),” said Judge Sheridan.

At that moment, Dion and the other attorney for the state did not flinch, as if they already knew the outcome. A very calm Cooley looked down at his notes and with his right hand patted Abbott’s back one time, then quickly moved his hand away. Abbott seemed stunned at first but showed little emotion.

Of 25 original indictments related to financial expenditures, property disposal and alleged bribery while he was sheriff, all counts against Abbott have now been dismissed in some manner.

Abbott had been found guilty on August 9 of soliciting bribes from two employees and was facing sentences of 2 to 10 years in prison on each bribery conviction.

The two bribery convictions were based on testimony of two deputies. One deputy testified Abbott borrowed $300 from him and did not repay the loan. Another deputy testified that Abbott told him to cash a $120 paycheck for off-duty work and give him the money.

Abbott was still sheriff in March 2010 when Virginia State Police executed a search warrant at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office in Saluda. The search warrant file was immediately sealed by Judge Thomas Nance after the warrant was executed on March 15. Those files are still sealed, but a request from the Southside Sentinel has been made to have them made open to the public.

With his legal problems well in view of the public, Abbott was voted out of office in November 2011 after three terms as sheriff. Abbott finished second in a four-man race by 346 votes to current sheriff David Bushey.

“I’m doing great,” said Abbott on Monday. “I think of all the thousands of dollars I have saved this county and now this trial has blown it all away. Can you imagine what this has cost the taxpayers… and for what?

“I was told that there were people in the county who wanted me out of office and all this stemmed from that,” he said. 

“People don’t know that every day before I went to work for the citizens of Middlesex County I prayed for God’s help to serve the county the right way,” he said.

“I will say that I had a very good attorney in Mr. Cooley. He never raised his voice and he showed what the law said. He did a great job,” said Abbott.

posted 10.17.2012

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