Life sentence: Differing stories in Aldridge family slayings

Robin and Mani Aldridge. Courtesy Charlottesville Police Department Robin and Mani Aldridge. Courtesy Charlottesville Police Department

The man who pleaded guilty in June to killing special education teacher Robin Aldridge and her daughter, Mani, will serve a life sentence plus 40 years in prison.

On December 5, 2014, Gene Washington allegedly beat the 58- and 17-year-olds to death before swaddling them in blankets and setting their Rugby Avenue home ablaze. He was arrested for the double slaying three days later.

“This was not a crime between strangers,” capital defender Jennifer Stanton said in Charlottesville Circuit Court September 25 to a crowded room of friends and family of both the defendant and the deceased. “Gene went to see Mani for one reason only, and that was to continue with their relationship.”

The prosecution painted a sharply different picture of what could have happened between the women and the man who entered an Alford plea to their capital and second-degree murders, and said Mani caught him robbing the house, and he killed her and then waited for Robin to come home. A voicemail confirmed that the Aldridges did not arrive at the house at the same time.

Robin, who taught in the Albemarle County school system for 30 years, adopted Mani from Ukraine in 2000, and according to their obituaries, their lives “were a true love story.”

“They came together from worlds away, and inspired everybody who knew them as they faced life’s road together, bumps and all,” and their home was full of “music, art, food, animals, children and love,” the obit says.

Though it had been speculated that Washington and Mani were sexually involved, it was brought up in court for the first time during Charlottesville Police Lieutenant James Mooney’s testimony.

Since being jailed, Washington has sent numerous letters proclaiming his innocence to news outlets including C-VILLE Weekly, former Charlottesville Police Department chief Tim Longo and the attorney general’s office, among many others.

In the letter to the AG’s office, postmarked December 14, 2015, Washington described “womanizing both mother and daughter” by having sex with them, and said on December 5, he was having sex with Mani when Robin found them and began attacking both of them. Washington said he and Mani allegedly fought back.

“I was under eminent danger and using self defense,” Washington wrote.

He wrote to his probation officer, Paul Anderson, about a year later, and described a “love triangle” between himself, Mani and Robin. Washington, who was married, said they were “obsessed” with him and that he felt guilty for committing adultery. And in his April 18, 2016, letter to Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy, he said police knew about his relationship with Mani, but not with Robin.

Emotions ran high in the courtroom, with several people who came in support of the victims wiping away tears while Mooney read the letters.

The validity of Washington’s story was called into question, and Mooney testified there was no physical evidence that the man knew Robin, but that phone records connected Washington with her daughter.

Clinical and forensic psychologist Jeffrey Aaron, who spent about 18 hours with Washington over the span of a year and a half, repeated a similar version of the story. He said the alleged murderer told him that he and Mani were having sex downstairs when an enraged Robin came home to find them, called him a “child molester” and started beating him and Mani with a hammer and a knife. The two allegedly ran upstairs to get dressed and locked themselves in Mani’s room. Then, Washington told Aaron he attempted to leave the home, but stopped to talk to Robin first. He said she was still angry and said she was going to call the police, so he became scared and “started swinging,” killing both of the women. Washington said he gathered items in the home that would connect him to the murders.

But the prosecution has a different theory—that the killings were premeditated—and pointed out numerous inconsistencies in Washington’s version of the story, including that Mani’s bedroom door didn’t have a lock and Washington didn’t have the markings on his hands or arms that one would expect from defending himself.

Prosecutor Libby Killeen said Washington told a friend weeks before the murders that he would be selling a car, and that Robin’s blue Toyota Matrix, found in the parking lot of his Barracks West apartment complex, was the car he was selling. At the time of their deaths, the Aldridges were also wearing jackets and shoes.

Gene Everett Washington. Photo: Charlottesville Police Department

While Aaron testified there’s a chance Washington could have made up some of the details, he said the defendant’s background and psychological profile suggested it was likely that the murders were a response to Washington’s strong emotions, and probably not premeditated.

The defendant, who has dealt with depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse issues, has a hard time distinguishing between what is real and what is not, according to Aaron.

In a three-hour testimony, the psychologist described Washington’s unhappy childhood, said he had significant learning problems and effectively still functioned as a child. Washington is considered intellectually disabled and neuropsychologist Joette James testified that his IQ is 76.

Aside from underperforming in school, his severe allergies and asthma caused him to be hospitalized as a child, which also gave him a sense of inadequacy, according to Aaron. He dealt with nocturnal enuresis, or bedwetting, through his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, which contributed to his feeling embarrassed and ashamed.

Washington’s home life was unstable, and by the time he was in fifth grade, he had been placed in eight different schools.

When Aaron testified that Washington’s mother berated him, called him stupid and beat him as a child, Washington shook his head and wiped tears from his eyes with a tissue. Aaron said Washington’s sister was also abused. His mother had one or more partners who abused her in ways such as punching, choking and setting her hair on fire.

When he was in ninth grade, the home Washington was living in with his mother caught on fire and burned to the ground, destroying all of the family’s possessions. And when his brother was murdered in 2006, Washington was locked up and couldn’t attend the funeral. His lengthy rap sheet includes assault, grand larceny and drug charges and several probation violations.

“The two of them were very, very close,” Aaron testified. “This was just event after event after event.”

Washington’s grandmother, Katherine Burton, was the last witness to take the stand. She said her grandson was devastated by the death of his brother, Scooter, and that the family knows the pain of having a beloved member murdered.

“They did everything together, including getting in trouble,” Burton said, and also recounted their early days when Washington was an usher at their church and Scooter played drums in the band.

Outside the courtroom, the Aldridges’ friends and family hugged Burton.

Though the judge granted the prosecution’s request of life in prison, Killeen said there are no real victories in these types of situations.

“Their lives were cut short with these brutal murders and their survivors have to go through that loss,” she says. “In a situation where someone has received the maximum possible terms, it’s also the case that it’s a tragedy for Mr. Washington’s family.”

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