MARION — After more than two years of avoiding the courtroom, a former NASCAR Xfinity driver and his state lawmaker attorney appeared before a Smyth County Circuit Court judge on Wednesday for a plea hearing in a domestic assault case against him.
Convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery on his wife in Smyth County Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, 41-year-old Eric Wayne McClure appealed the case to the circuit court in June 2018.
The case began to draw scrutiny in early 2020 after McClure’s attorney, Jeff Campbell, who represents the 6th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, repeatedly used a special exemption to continue the case.
Virginia Code Section 30.5 allows continuances for legislators who are attorneys when their General Assembly duties interfere with their legal work.
Since the time the Chilhowie man filed his appeal, the case was delayed nine times between September 2018 and January 2020 using the special exemption. Following those continuances, courtroom restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic further delayed the case.
The same special exemption was used in other cases, including a drawn-out appeal in the case against the Smyth County Board of Supervisors in the Virginia Supreme Court. At that time, Campbell, R-Marion, also served as the county’s attorney.
McClure’s wife, Miranda McClure, told the Associated Press in February that she believed Campbell was abusing the special exemption in an attempt to drag the case out and wear her down amid the couple’s divorce.
In her victim impact statement given during Wednesday’s hearing, Miranda McClure told the court, “That day that it happened, I was scared for my life and my children were scared, as well.”
According to a criminal complaint filed in the case, Smyth County Deputy Nicole Cline responded to the couple’s home on Lonesome Pine Lane in February 2018 after dispatch received reports of a physical altercation at the residence. By the time Cline arrived, Chilhowie Police Lt. Aaron Smith had already separated the two. Smith told Cline that Miranda McClure had a hand print on the left side of her face when he arrived.
In a petition for a protective order, Miranda McClure wrote that during the ordeal, her husband had “grabbed me by the throat and pushed me up against the wall yelling and cussing me.”
She wrote that when she attempted to call 911, McClure grabbed her again.
“My 9 yo was able to make the call,” she wrote. “At that point, he followed me to the phone. I spoke w[ith] dispatch and an officer was on the way. He begged me to tell them not to come. I said no and he slapped me in the face.”
Although McClure appealed the 2018 conviction, he pleaded no contest to the charge in circuit court on Wednesday. No contest pleas allow a defendant to neither admit to nor deny a charge and are treated as guilty pleas.
Given McClure’s clean criminal record, Campbell asked that his client be granted a deferred disposition, or first offender status, which would allow the charge to be dismissed provided McClure stay on good behavior and meet the conditions set by the court.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Brendan Roche told Judge C. Randall Lowe that he didn’t believe McClure was entitled to the deferred disposition since he had “passed” on it in the lower court so that he could appeal the conviction.
Noting that it had taken a long time to conclude the case, Lowe said because McClure had no additional charges since the 2018 incident, he was eligible for first offender status.
As part of the deferred disposition, McClure was given 12 months supervised probation and is required to attend anger management counseling and undergo mental health and substance abuse assessments. A review of his progress in meeting those conditions is scheduled for Dec. 18.
Stephanie Porter-Nichols contributed to this story.