Gene Washington’s lawyers want grand jury records

Capital defender Jennifer Stanton wants to check out the makeup of the grand jury that indicted Gene Washington.
Staff photo Capital defender Jennifer Stanton wants to check out the makeup of the grand jury that indicted Gene Washington. Staff photo

Attorneys for the man charged with the capital murders of a beloved teacher and her daughter in 2014 asked a judge for the grand jury records for the past four years in Charlottesville Circuit Court today.

The slayings of Robin Aldridge, 58, a special education teacher with Albemarle County, and 17-year-old Mani, a junior at Charlottesville High, shocked the area after neighbors reported their Rugby Avenue home ablaze December 5, 2014, and their bodies later discovered in the smoldering ruins.

Three days later, police arrested Gene Everett Washington, 31, after Robin Aldridge’s Toyota was found in the parking lot of his Barracks West apartment complex and bloody clothing, a knife and Aldridge’s new iPhone 6 was found in the dumpster there.

Washington sat in court for the brief hearing during which his capital attorneys from Norfolk sought the records. “The defense does not have to make a showing there’s been a deficit in the grand jury process,” said lawyer Jennifer Stanton.

“They need to show some reason,” argued prosecutor Libby Killeen. She cited the confidentiality that’s given to grand jurors and asked if there was a concern with the demographics of the jury that indicted Washington.

“Your sole point in getting this information is to look at the racial disparity?” asked Judge Rick Moore.

“To help determine if there’s a pattern,” replied Stanton.

Moore noted that the grand jury lists he sees generally only provide names, addresses and phone numbers. He agreed to allow the defense to see the list of jurors who indicted Washington in June 2015, and said there would be a protective order to keep the names from being shared with anyone other than Washington’s defense, which was not permitted to contact the jurors.

Five to seven jurors are called each month to serve on the grand jury from a pool of 120, and at least one is usually African-American, said Moore.

Legal expert Dave Heilberg said, “As far as makeup and selection, that’s something that can be examined. Obviously in a capital case with that much at stake, you’ve got to look at that. They could find something they could leverage.”

After the hearing, Stanton said, “In other jurisdictions, the grand jury process has been found to be hugely deficit.” And she said such a request for grand jury information was standard in a capital case.