In court Tuesday, Feb. 6, Roosevelt Henderson Jr. pleaded guilty to embezzling money he had collected for information about the death of Erica Smith in 2003.
Instead of pleading not guilty and facing a trial, Henderson chose to enter an Alford plea, in which he pleads guilty, but maintains his innocence. In entering the plea, Henderson acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence with which to convict him.
"This is a felony conviction," Judge Burke F. McCahill told Henderson during his pleading. "It is just as if you pleaded guilty or were found guilty."
Henderson took money from two different accounts he set up after Erica Heather Smith disappeared and her body was later discovered. The case remains unsolved.
One of the accounts was for a reward for anyone with information about the case. The second account was for a foundation, intended to be used for a possible educational scholarship or other fund in Erica's name.
"It is my understanding that they have documents that show checks were written off those accounts," Henderson said when explaining when he chose to enter the plea agreement.
IN AUGUST a judge found there was enough evidence to move forward with the embezzlement case, but did not support the second charge of money laundering that Henderson was also facing. In September, Henderson was indicted by a grand jury on the embezzlement charge.
By pleading guilty, Henderson faces a range of possible sentences, from up to one year in the county jail and a fine of $2,500 to up to 20 years in a state prison.
In accordance with the plea agreement, there has been no sentence recommendation from the Commonwealth Attorney's office. The only stipulation on the Commonwealth Attorney's office is that it will not pursue any other prosecution with regards to the Erica Smith reward or memorial funds, which were held at the Middleburg Bank.
McCahill told Henderson that by signing the plea agreement, he was leaving the issue of his sentence in the hands of the court.
"If you don't like the sentence you receive, you are going to have no reason to withdraw this guilty plea and go to trial," McCahill said. "Whatever the sentence is, you would have to serve a minimum of 85 percent because we are a no-parole state."
HENDERSON MUST ALSO pay restitution to the victims in the case and present a payment plan to the court at his sentencing. There was some question Tuesday as to who the money should go to since both of the accounts at the Middleburg Bank have been closed.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Sincavage said while there is another memorial fund for Erica Smith, he was not sure who should be the recipient.
"The difficulty comes in figuring out where the money should go," he said. "I don't know about the viability of that fund accepting [Henderson's] funds."
Raymond Kline, Henderson's attorney, said that Henderson was prepared to pay back more than $2,000 Tuesday, but would be willing to wait to work out the best way to return the money and how much the restitution should be.
"I know we are going to have a dispute about the exact amount," Kline said. "But Mr. Henderson is totally willing to pay the money now."
McCahill said that if an agreement could be worked out between Henderson and the Commonwealth Attorney's office, Henderson could pay the money whenever he wished.
Henderson is scheduled to be formally sentenced Friday, May 18, at 10 a.m.