Five days before his 18th birthday, Matthew James Lathram of Ashburn has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and six other felonies.
He faces two to 95 years in jail, depending on whether Circuit Court Judge James Chamblin sentences him as a juvenile or as an adult. Lathram has been charged as an adult in the March shooting, but sentencing is at the judge's discretion.
"There are no guarantees," Chamblin told Lathram Thursday, Aug. 4. "You could be sentenced out right as an adult."
Lathram admitted to shooting Donald "Nicholas" Shomaker, 15, of Ashburn, in the basement of a home owned by his grandparents, James and Annette Loy, who also serve as his legal guardian. The plea agreement seeks to keep him incarcerated locally during a period of cooperation and prosecution of other defendants.
Chamblin found Lathram guilty of the seven felonies and scheduled a three-hour sentencing hearing on Dec. 2, once a background investigation is completed.
Shomaker's mother, Lori, clutched what appeared to be a baby's blanket and with her hands crossed at the wrists, held it to her chest throughout the hearing.
AFTER THE HEARING last week, Shomaker's uncle and grandfather objected to Commonwealth Attorney James Plowman's plea agreement, which reduced a murder charge to involuntary manslaughter. Donald O'Meara Jr. and his father Donald O'Meara Sr., both of Culpepper, said Lathram told Shomaker's girlfriend and the juvenile who sold Lathram the gun used in the shooting that he planned to kill Shomaker.
O'Meara Sr. said he brought a juvenile to authorities to sign a statement that the adolescent heard Lathram threaten to kill Shomaker.
Plowman said the facts do not support this. "After full investigation of the so called 'threats' we concluded that they were not genuine and in most cases could not be substantiated in the slightest."
The O'Mearas were not persuaded.
"This judicial system is a joke," O'Meara Jr. said. "The kid committed murder. The boy turns 18 in five days. He should not be treated as a juvenile (at the time of sentencing)."
The juvenile who sold the gun was recently charged in the theft of the firearm and more than $200 worth of items from an Ashburn home in late March.
The O'Mearas said they wanted a trial instead of a plea bargain. O'Meara Jr. said he hoped Lathram would receive the maximum penalty.
Plowman, who was not at the hearing, responded Monday. "The evidence showed manslaughter, not murder," he said. "We reviewed all of the facts in a painstaking manner and concluded that there was simply no specific intent to commit murder.
"If there was such evidence, we would have aggressively pursued a murder conviction. It is a disservice to the community to bootstrap a baseless case in order to appease the emotions of a few individuals who don't know all of the facts."
O'Meara Jr. also complained about Plowman's absence. "One of the biggest days of the case, he isn't even here," he said.
Plowman said the case was rescheduled to ensure certain family members could attend. "The next available date happened to present a scheduling conflict, which we resolved by assigning co-counsel Steve Sincavage."
O'Meara accused Plowman of not upholding his campaign promise to be tough on crime. Plowman was elected in November 2003.
Plowman responded, "We are committed to being tough on crime. This juvenile has been prosecuted on seven felony cases and faces up to 95 years in prison with no plea bargains or certainty as to his future," he said. "We intend to advocate for a lengthy period of imprisonment."
LATHRAM, DRESSED in a navy blazer, a white shirt, khaki pants and black sneakers, stood to address the judge. His feet remained shackled with chains. He said he understood the ramifications of entering the guilty pleas.
He admitted to involuntary manslaughter, possession of a controlled substance (cocaine), possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance (Psilocyn), possession with intent to distribute marijuana (more than one-half ounce and less than one five pounds), possession of controlled substances while in possession of a firearm, possession of a "sawed off" shotgun and receiving stolen goods with a value of $200 or more.
The judge said Lathram would lose his driver's license based on the guilty pleas, but he was not sure how that would work since Lathram does not have a driver's license. There are no guarantees on how long Lathram will be prohibited from obtaining a driver's license, Chamblin said.
The O'Mearas took offense to any concerns over Lathram's inability to drive. Shomaker will never be able to get a driver's license, they said.
Chamblin questioned whether the behavior report from the juvenile detention center was "a matter of course" or part of the plea agreement. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Stephen Sincavage said it was not part of the agreement.
The written report stated Lathram had followed the rules for the past week. Until then, however, his progress had declined. "He has received several consequences and spent a total of 18 hours in his cell on isolation. Detainee frequently tests limits and challenges staff direction and authority. Detainee frequently demonstrates disruptive behavior and is removed from activities as a result."
The hearing was delayed 25 minutes because Shomaker's relatives had trouble finding parking. Then Chamblin called a recess to read the six-page plea agreement.