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The former Frankin County sheriff's deputy, convicted of killing his ex-wife in May 2011, received the maximum punishment.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Jonathan Agee listens to Judge Charlie Dorsey pronounce three life sentences for first degree murder, attempted capital murder and aggravated malicious wounding on Wednesday.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Jonathan Agee's family members and friends, including Agee's wife, Julia Angell, console each other in the courtroom after his sentencing on Wednesday morning. He was given three life sentences for first degree murder, attempted capital murder and aggravated malicious wounding.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Emotion erupted from both sides of a Roanoke courtroom gallery Wednesday as a judge sentenced Jonathan Agee to three life prison terms for first-degree murder, attempted capital murder and aggravated malicious wounding.
The news prompted tears from the family members of Agee, a former Franklin County sheriff’s deputy, as well as from the friends and relatives of Jennifer Agee, his ex-wife, whom he fatally shot on Memorial Day 2011 in the parking lot of a Roanoke convenience store.
Jonathan Agee, 34, later shot and wounded a Virginia State Police trooper who was chasing him.
His sentence, announced just before noon by Judge Charlie Dorsey, represented the maximum punishment in all three cases.
Those penalties exceeded judicial guidelines, which Dorsey said “were flawed in this case. Thank God they are.”
Judicial guidelines, Dorsey said, are based by the General Assembly on value judgments, not experience.
“In cases of this magnitude, could the General Assembly really have envisioned any set of circumstances more horrendous?” Dorsey said.
Agee, who betrayed no expression at the sentence, also was given six years on firearms charges and five years for felony eluding. He pleaded no contest in January to the charges against him.
During a sentencing hearing that stretched across two days, the commonwealth’s attorneys for Roanoke and Montgomery County — Donald Caldwell and Mary Pettitt — laid out the violent details of May 30, 2011, when Agee used an M-4 carbine to gun down his ex-wife in the parking lot of the Sheetz on Williamson Road. Agee fled in his Franklin County patrol car and later, on northbound Interstate 81 in Montgomery County, collided with and shot state police Sgt. Matthew Brannock.
Disabled by a flat tire about a mile down the road at Ironto, Agee refused police orders to put down his rifle and was himself shot by state troopers. He was severely injured and taken into custody.
Caldwell and Pettitt also brought forth testimony that sought to explain the motivations behind his crimes.
A Roanoke police detective acknowledged that just prior to her death, Jennifer Agee had been having an affair with her ex-husband, they had exchanged sexually explicit cellphone photographs and they had more recently been engaged in a bitter custody dispute involving one of their two young daughters.
The detective said Jennifer Agee tried to use the photos as leverage against her ex-husband, and on the morning of her death she sent one of the pictures to Julia Angell, who had married Jonathan Agee just a few months earlier.
Agee’s attorney, C.J. Covati, built a defense strategy largely around his abuse of illegal steroids in the two years leading up to the shooting. Anabolic steroids can help generate body mass but also can induce mood swings and so-called “’roid rage.”
Agee testified that while using anabolic steroids, he bulked up from 170 to 230 pounds in a matter of months. Angell testified that during that period he became irritable and paranoid, jealous of attention she received, even from children.
In a 45-minute video deposition for the defense, Dr. Harrison Pope, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said his research into anabolic steroids showed that about 10 percent of those who use them experience “Jekyll and Hyde”-style personality shifts. He presented several cases in which steroid abusers unexpectedly committed shocking crimes, and he said Agee’s spree might have been sparked by a steroid called trenbolone.
“If he had not been taking anabolic steroids in May of 2011, the murder would not have happened,” Pope said.
Caldwell, in his closing arguments, dismissed that notion.
“You are what you eat. Nobody forced him to take steroids,” he declared, but he allowed that Jennifer Agee’s blackmail attempts may have provoked her ex-husband.
“It’s a dirty game. It’s still not an excuse to be murdered,” Caldwell said, adding,“If her hands were dirty, his were filthy.”
Pettitt dismissed another defense position: that Agee, after the fatal shooting, had wanted to be killed himself.
“He didn’t stay at the Sheetz. He flees. Fast,” she said. “He’s not trying to die. He’s trying to get away.”
“He endangered dozens of drivers” by traveling at a top speed of 120 mph, she added. “He only stopped when he had no other choice.”
Both Caldwell and Pettitt asked Dorsey to impose life sentences on the three most serious felonies.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for what Jonathan Agee did,” Covati said in his closing. He cited Agee’s service as a deputy, his standing as a father and his lack of prior criminal history. “While he’s a flawed man, he was not a violent man.”
“Lost in all of your explanations is really any sense of the enormity of what you did,” Dorsey told Agee before pronouncing the sentence, and he gave no credence to a steroid explanation, saying, “There simply was no … reason for a coldblooded execution of a mother.”
Other details came to light during the two-day sentencing hearing:
n “How did you even know to find her at Sheetz?” defense attorney Covati asked Agee on the stand. Agee replied that he’d spoken to Jennifer Agee on the phone that day. “She said ‘Meet me at Sheetz,’ ” Agee told Covati, matter-of-factly.
n Brannock testified that one of the factors complicating his pursuit of Agee was that he thought one of Agee’s daughters might have been riding in the car with him. The cruiser had tinted windows. He said when he pulled up beside Agee to get a better look, Agee hit his brakes and the two cars bounced against each other.
n Dorsey cited two state police sergeants: Becky Curl, one of the troopers who shot Agee and took him into custody, and Brannock, who had said on the witness stand he feared he’d been overcome by fear when Agee had shot at him.
“Mr. Brannock, there was a coward on the interstate that day,” Dorsey told him. “But sir, it most assuredly was not you.”
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