When Judge James H. Chamblin decided not to reduce the sentence imposed on Matthew Lathram in 2004, he had harsh words for the now 20-year-old defendant.
"When life doesn't treat you fair, it is not an excuse to turn to crime," Chamblin said. "What you did represents, to me, all of the things that I just don't like for young people to do."
In December 2004, Lathram was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his involvement in the shooting death of Donald Nicholas Shomaker, which occurred March 22, 2004, in the basement of Lathram's grandparents' home. At the time of his death, Shomaker was 15 years old and a freshman at Broad Run High School.
In April 2004, Lathram pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and six other felonies, including possession with intent to distribute three different narcotics and possession of stolen firearms. Lathram, who was 17 at the time of the crimes, has spent the past two years incarcerated at the Southampton Correctional Center.
Lathram and his lawyer, Alexander Levay, were back in court Tuesday, Dec. 12, after a problem had been found in one of his sentences. During his original sentencing, Lathram had been sentenced to 15 years for possession of psychedelic mushrooms with the intent to sell. He was also sentenced to 15 years for the same charge with marijuana.
The maximum sentence allowed for possession of marijuana with the intent to sell is 10 years. Since Chamblin originally ruled the two drug sentences to run concurrently, the reduction in the marijuana sentence would not change Lathram's total prison time.
"I don't know why the Court of Appeals sent this case back," Chamblin said in court Tuesday. He added that the problem could have been fixed without coming before a judge.
LEVAY USED THE resentencing as an opportunity to petition Chamblin for a reduction in Lathram's sentence. He said that Lathram had changed in the almost three years since he killed Nick Shomaker.
"He is more mature and responsible than the Matt you knew," he said.
John Moyle, assistant pastor of Oakbrook Church in Reston, who has worked with Lathram, testified about his interactions with the defendant and the changes he has seen in him.
"He has found what it means to be loved and has developed the capacity to love others," Moyle said. "I don't think he had that really before. He is a very different man than the young man I met."
Lathram was also a different person biologically since Lathram's brain development was not complete when he shot Shomaker, Levay argued, citing studies that had been done about the juvenile brain and a United States Supreme Court judgment on the fundamental difference between youth and adult offenders.
"He's growing," Levay said. "Some people grow at different stages."
Levay took the blame for the December 2004 sentencing, saying he was devastated by the outcome and questioned his ability as an attorney.
"I was searching for what I needed to do to present the right evidence," he said. "I relied on the simple fact of the abuse and neglect Matthew had endured."
Lathram's childhood, which was riddled with physical and sexual abuse and the abandonment by his parents, was central at the 2004 sentencing hearing. It was his childhood, Levay argued in 2004, which led to Lathram's drug use and, eventually, the death of Shomaker.
"Matt was exposed to drugs at a very early age," Levay said Dec. 12. "No one clearly has tried to help him until recently. It is a sad fact of life that people don't try to help people until something horrible has happened."
COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY James Plowman said that Lathram was a "manipulator" and that his change was only an act.
"He says whatever he thinks the person in front of him wants to hear to best benefit him," Plowman said.
Plowman added that all of Lathram's activities leading up to Shomaker's death were just as calculated, from knowing who was involved in pending narcotics cases to which informants were supplying information to detectives.
"His early drug use turned into a whole system [of drug distribution]," he said. "And [Lathram] fancied himself as being successful in that field."
The prosecutor said that while he felt for Lathram and the childhood he endured, he did not believe it gave him an excuse for his crimes.
"A lot of people face hardships," Plowman said. "It's what you do with those hardships, how you rebound from them, that makes you who you are as a person."
Plowman also dismissed Levay's assertion that he was responsible for the December 2004 outcome.
"When you are involved with firearms, when you are involved with drugs, you are a ticking time bomb," he said.
LORI (SHOMAKER) O'MEARA, who has remarried since her son's death, was present in the courtroom last Tuesday, bowing her head and closing her eyes as the lawyers spoke. Members of Lathram's family, including his sister and his grandparents, were also present.
When Chamblin gave his decision and spoke to Lathram, both O'Meara and members of Lathram's family wept.
"You are not the victim here," Chamblin told Lathram just before he gave his ruling. "Nick Shomaker, his family, are the victims. It is more important to consider keeping you in a place where you can't do these things again."
Given the chance to address the court, Lathram apologized to the Shomaker family, as he did in 2004.
"Nick was a very good friend of mine," he said. "I never would have wished anything bad to happen to him."
Lathram also said he had learned a lot from his actions and planned to change his life in the future.
"I had the choice to go down the wrong road or to try and do something with my life," he said. "That's what I chose."
Plowman said there are no other reasons why Lathram should be granted an appeal. In addition, Levay appeared in court Monday, Dec. 18, to remove himself from the case and ask that new counsel be appointed