The man charged with beating a 58-year-old special education teacher and her 17-year-old daughter to death before setting their Rugby Avenue home ablaze in December 2014 pleaded guilty to one count of capital murder and one count of second degree murder in Charlottesville Circuit Court on June 21.
Gasps filtered through the courtroom and a man sat with his head in his hands as the now-convicted murderer entered his plea deal in the deaths of Robin and Mani Aldridge. Gene Everett Washington, 32, entered two Alford pleas, meaning he won’t go to trial and he acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him for the murders.
Judge Rick Moore said Washington will not face the death penalty, but one of his three attorneys, capital defender Jennifer Stanton, says she fully expects the prosecution to ask for life in prison.
Stanton says her client has “intellectual deficits.” Outside the courthouse, she said that he is ready to “take responsibility and put the whole thing behind him,” but in his September sentencing, the judge will find that “his version of what happened is not the same version” as the prosecution’s. It was revealed in court that after Washington’s arrest, in a letter to the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, he claimed it was self defense.
Robin Aldridge’s blue Toyota Matrix was found at Washington’s apartment complex, and his bloody shoes were found in a dumpster outside the apartment, according to testimony from a June 2015 preliminary hearing.
William Tatton, a volunteer firefighter and first responder to the house fire on December 5, 2014, described seeing a woman’s hand resting on the stairs as he was searching the basement of the Aldridge home for victims. This was the body of beloved Hollymead Elementary School teacher Robin—and the body of Mani was soon found lying next to her mother’s.
Over 10 witnesses testified at that hearing in 2015, including an investigator who said Washington’s DNA was found on a slightly bent, blood-stained knife, towels and rubber gloves in a dumpster outside of his Barracks West apartment. The DNA on the knife matched Mani’s, as well.
Former Chief Tim Longo, who was at the helm of the Charlottesville Police Department at the time of the murders, announced that Mani and Washington “were known to each other,” but their last known contact by phone or text was in October, months before the murders.
The dumpster also held Robin’s iPhone 6, which rang when police called it, as well as a pair of bloody orange and black Nikes, which Washington could be seen wearing in surveillance footage from the day of the murders and in his own Youtube videos, according to testimony.
On the same day investigators found evidence in the dumpster, they found the Aldridge’s stolen car just feet away in a Barracks West visitor parking space. Detective Stephen Carson testified that he began knocking on residents’ doors in the apartment complex when he came across a man whom he identified in the June hearing as Washington.
Carson said Washington fully opened his apartment door until he saw Carson’s police badge and slowly began closing it. When the investigator asked Washington if he knew any details about the stolen car or evidence, Carson said the man charged with the crimes vigorously picked his hair and broke eye contact when the officer used words such as “murder” or “homicide.”
At that time, Washington said he didn’t know anything.
In a letter to C-VILLE, postmarked December 29, 2014, Washington insisted on his innocence, claiming he was at friends’ houses and in multiple stores at the time of the crimes. He blamed the media for stating “false information to communities as if I’m some monster…I did not do this,” he wrote, “and I’m not going to stop telling everyone my innocences!”
His lengthy rap sheet includes convictions in 2004 and 2006 for burglary, breaking and entering, grand larceny and drug possession, and assault on a female in North Carolina in 2013.
“He’s not a monster,” longtime friend Jasmine Speller told C-VILLE a couple weeks after the murders. She had spoken with Washington days before his arrest and said their conversation was upbeat, with the now-convicted murderer focused on work, his marriage and a newborn son. “It’s never been in his nature to become volatile to the point that he’s hurting someone and can’t stop it.”
Those who came to show support for the Aldridges declined to comment after the hearing.
Updated: June 22 at 1:26pm