In a packed courtroom Tuesday morning, the wife of a slain Pentagon Police officer confronted the man who killed her husband. She broke down in tears several times as the law-enforcement personnel in the audience clenched their fingers together until they turned white or silently wiped tears from their eyes. It was an emotional moment that capped months of suspense for the family and friends of Officer James Feltis, 41.
“I can forgive Mr. LaRode because I have to,” said Mary Feltis. “I have to live my life.”
Ossie LaRode, 23, pleaded guilty in June to murdering Feltis, setting the stage for this week’s sentencing hearing. Defense attorneys for LaRode called two forensic experts into the courtroom to testify that he believes he is a prophet sent from above who can influence the weather with his mind. Nevertheless, Judge Leonie Brinkema denied their request to send LaRode to a prison hospital. Citing the need for “justice and retribution,” Brinkema sentenced LaRode to 382 months — almost 32 years — in federal prison on Tuesday.
“There is no doubt that mental illness played a role in this case,” the judge said before handing down the sentence. “We are still in the dark ages in terms of mental illness.”
LARODE CAME to America from Trinidad in 1999, living in New York with his girlfriend and their children. According to testimony from a forensic psychologist, he became estranged from his family as his paranoid schizophrenia became more pronounced. The troubles began when he would retreat to the basement to read the dictionary. Eventually, the voices in his head led him to drift from town to town. By January 2005, he ended up at the Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria — across the street from the McDonald’s parking lot where he struck a 65-year-old man and stole his 2002 Cadillac.
After the carjacking, LaRode led Alexandria Police officers on a chase through the streets of Del Ray. Virginia state troopers and a Fairfax County police helicopter joined the pursuit as the chase moved up Mount Vernon Avenue toward South Glebe Road and finally to I-395 toward the Pentagon. Feltis, a 10-year-veteran of the Pentagon Police Department, was working a security detail when LaRode steered the stolen Cadillac directly at the officer. A subsequent investigation concluded that LaRode was traveling between 36 to 46 miles an hour when the car struck Feltis, who was thrown 78 feet from the point of impact.
“Mr. LaRode had no respect for anyone’s life but his own,” Mary Feltis told Brinkema in the Tuesday hearing.
After being struck, James Feltis clung to life for five weeks. Mary Feltis told Brinkema that she was unable to communicate with her husband as surgeons performed several surgeries to save his life — eventually amputating his left leg. Ultimately, his lungs collapsed on Feb. 13. She said she had made the difficult decision to unplug the life-support machines on Feb. 14.
“There’s no way that justice could be served to bring him back,” she said.
AFTER THE SENTENCING, Pentagon officers hugged Mary Feltis in the hallway outside the sixth-floor federal courtroom. Defense attorneys declined to comment, and the United States Attorney’s Office released a written statement.
“LaRode took the life of a husband, a father, and a dedicated federal law enforcement officer in a senseless act of violence,” wrote U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg in the written statement. “No punishment can make up for that loss, but Officer Feltis’ family and the community should know that justice has been served, and a dangerous criminal is now off our streets for a very long time.”
Alexandria Officer P. McGee, who participated in the Jan. 11, 2005 car chase, said that his thoughts are with Feltis’ 8-year-old daughter.
“Mary Elizabeth will be without a father for the rest of her life,” McGee said, turning away. “I think this will take some time to sink in.”
Timmie LaRode, sister of the defendant, said that the LaRode family would miss the 23-year-old man who is now facing more than 30 years in federal prison. Although her brother declined to apologize to family members when Brinkema gave him the opportunity, Timmie LaRode offered her condolences to family and friends of the slain Pentagon Police officer.
“We’re really sorry about what happened,” she said.