Dollar disadvantage: Gene Washington’s attorney says money matters

Gene Everett Washington. Photo: Charlottesville Police Department Gene Everett Washington. Photo: Charlottesville Police Department

The man charged with brutally beating to death special education teacher Robin Aldridge and her daughter, Mani, and then setting their Rugby Avenue home on fire in December 2014, appeared before a judge for a motions hearing April 21. One of his three attorneys argued that he’s at a disadvantage because, in her words, he’s “poor.”

Defense attorney Faith Winstead asked that Gene Everett Washington, an indigent defendant, have the same privileges as more affluent defendants in his psychiatric, psychological and medical health evaluations.

According to Winstead, defendants who can afford their own attorneys are able to choose from a larger list of health professionals to complete their assessments, but the list for defendants who have an appointed attorney is narrow. Likewise, those with their own lawyers have more autonomy over how to report and present their assessment results to the prosecutors.

Those like Washington are required to report the results with no alterations and disclose all documents relating to the assessments, says Winstead.

“Does this set him up to be in a different position because he doesn’t have money?” she asked Judge Richard Moore in Charlottesville Circuit Court. “Is he in a different position because he is poor?”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman said he doesn’t believe that a nonindigent defendant is free from disclosing all health assessment results to the prosecutors, but he would ask the court for all provisions to apply to both types of defendants moving forward.

Moore said he’d need more time to review the submitted documents and he’d make a decision about the health assessments at a later hearing. Washington is scheduled to appear for his next hearing on May 23, and his trial, which could take three weeks, is scheduled for May 2017.

The attorneys also discussed jury selection at the hearing. Moore said a panel of 20 jurors usually answers general questions together, and then jurors may be questioned individually. Most likely, he said, the defense will want to speak one-on-one with jurors about death penalty qualifications.

Defense attorney Katherine Jensen raised concerns about the potential for police to not provide all of the exculpatory evidence found in the case, though there’s no doubt, she said, that the commonwealth has provided them with all the evidence it has.

Moore said police, by law, must make all exculpatory evidence available.

Charlottesville Police Captain Gary Pleasants says all evidence, including anything believed to be exculpatory (also known as Brady material), is documented and provided to the prosecutor’s office where it is available to defense attorneys.

“This is the open-file policy that both the police department and commonwealth attorney’s office adhere to,” Pleasants says.

Both city and county courts also abide by open-file policy, though it’s not required.

Gene Washington

Courtesty of the Charlottesville police department

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