A12 appeals: DeAndre Harris attackers contest convictions

White nationalists chased DeAndre Harris into the Market Street Parking Garage and beat him with pieces of the wooden barricades they tore down.  (Credit Image: © Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press) White nationalists chased DeAndre Harris into the Market Street Parking Garage and beat him with pieces of the wooden barricades they tore down. (Credit Image: © Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press)

Two men convicted of malicious wounding for attacking DeAndre Harris in a downtown parking garage on August 12, 2017, are appealing their convictions, and the Virginia Attorney General’s office will now prosecute their cases.

Jacob Goodwin and Alex Ramos were sentenced to eight and six years in prison, respectively, for their part in the brutal Market Street Parking Garage beating that Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Rick Moore has repeatedly called one of the worst he’s ever seen.

While the Court of Appeals of Virginia has yet to hear the cases, a single judge granted the petitions to appeal without hearing any argument. Legal analyst Dave Heilberg says, “It’s not unusual, but it’s not what usually happens.”

He adds, “They tend not to give appeals without a good reason.”

Anthony Martin, who represents Goodwin, claims there was insufficient evidence to convict his client of malicious wounding.

“The only actions [Goodwin] had taken towards DeAndre Harris was at the most two kicks,” says the petition for appeal, which notes that Harris had a laceration to his head and an arm fracture, but that there’s no evidence that Goodwin caused harm to Harris’ head or arm. “The only conceivable areas of the body that [Goodwin] touched were Harris’ buttocks or bottom.”

To win an appeal on a claim of insufficiency of evidence is “rare,” according to Heilberg. During appellate review, the court will look at all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the commonwealth. “If there’s some evidence to support the conviction that was given, then it stands.”

Martin also argues that the court erred by denying motions to strike four potential jurors from serving on the panel that convicted Goodwin, including two who admitted to participating in Black Lives Matter rallies.

Jake Joyce represents Ramos—who went to trial the day after Goodwin’s conviction. Joyce alleges the jury pool could have been tainted if potential jurors saw media coverage of Goodwin’s trial.

“Ramos would have a stronger case than Goodwin,” suggests Heilberg, adding that the scheduling of their back-to-back trials could be unprecedented.

Joyce believes the trial should never have happened in Charlottesville.

“The danger was not just that jurors would harbor bias against the Unite the Righters who came to their city and caused a riot,” he wrote in the petition. “There is also danger that the circumstances surrounding the trial and the fear of fallout about their verdict might cause local jurors to decide their verdict on something other than the merits of the case.”

All motions to move August 12-related cases out of Charlottesville have been denied, and Heilberg says there’s a slim chance of winning an appeal on that grounds.

Lastly, Joyce argues that Ramos’ malicious wounding charge should have been reduced to a lesser form of assault, because it’s undisputed that he threw only one punch at the back of Harris’ head. But, says Heilberg, the jury made a factual determination based on the evidence it was given, and “if Ramos and Goodwin are acting in concert…one is as guilty as the other.”

A date has not been set for a full briefing or oral arguments in Richmond.

“Appellate review of criminal proceedings plays an important role in ensuring that defendants were treated fairly and afforded due process of law,” says Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania, who prosecuted the cases alongside assistant prosecutor Nina Antony. “This office welcomes and is confident in that process.”