On the second day of his jury trial, prominent realtor Andrew Middleditch, 56, pleaded guilty to his second DUI offense and entered an unexpected Alford plea before the closing statements related to his involuntary manslaughter charge, which came from a Memorial Day car crash that killed 78-year-old Lonnie Branham.
When the judge asked Middleditch if he made the decision to enter the plea on his own, he did not immediately answer yes. He also asked the judge to explain the meaning of an Alford plea after he entered it.
An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt, but rather an acknowledgment that a jury has enough evidence for a conviction.
Once sentenced to five years in prison, with all but 90 days suspended for the involuntary manslaughter charge, and 12 months for the second drunk driving offense, with but 40 days suspended, Middleditch stood and faced the family of the victim.
“I want you to know something from the bottom of my heart,” he said, his voice shaking. “I really wanted to go to the funeral and they told me I couldn’t.” He added that he is “very, very sorry,” and that he was suffering addictions that he has since gotten under control. He also said he still feels like he didn’t cause the accident.
Outside of the courtroom, teary-eyed family and friends gathered around Leigh Middleditch, the defendant’s father who has served on UVA’s Board of Visitors, and Betty Middleditch, the defendant’s mother. “He was so brave,” one said to the parents, and another said, “I’m so proud.”
“Mr. Middleditch still feels like he didn’t do anything wrong,” defense attorney Fran Lawrence said outside the courthouse, adding that his client chose to take the Alford plea because it was difficult to tell what the jury was thinking. He said his client is committed to sobriety, his family and his role in the community.
“Somebody who’s never been in serious trouble has difficulty admitting to himself that he might have done something wrong,” says C-VILLE legal expert Dave Heilberg about why Middleditch might have chosen to take his case to trial. “Sometimes you have to get a jury trial started before a defendant is ready to hear what the evidence against him might be.”
Heilberg says the Alford plea could have been used as a device to keep from having liability admitted.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed against Middleditch by Branham’s family has been settled, according to the family’s attorney, Greg Webb.
Middleditch will report to the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail on May 20 to serve his time.
Read about the first day of his trial here.
In August 2014, Charlottesville author and world renowned journalist Donovan Webster, also 56 at the time, killed Wayne Thomas White Sr., a 75-year-old from Waynesboro, on Route 151 in a similar drunk driving and involuntary manslaughter case that was also prosecuted by Quatrara.
Webster pleaded guilty to the charges in February 2015 and was sentenced to two years in jail.