(Updated at 4:00 p.m.) James Sylvester Caroline pleaded guilty this afternoon to the murder of Columbia Pike jewelry store owner Tommy Kin Mo Wong.
Caroline entered the plea before Arlington Circuit Court Judge William T. Newman, Jr. Newman sentenced Caroline to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus an additional three years for a weapons charge. The plea removed the possibility of Caroline facing the death penalty.
As part of the plea deal, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos read a statement of facts about the case.
Wong was born in Hong Kong but eventually emigrated Northern Virginia, married and raised a family. After working for years in the jewelry business, he purchased the store at 3219 Columbia Pike, named it Capital Jewelers, and began selling and repairing jewelry and watches.
An industrious man with a well-established daily routine, Wong’s family became worried when he didn’t return home after work on Friday, July 27, 2012. They called police, who were dispatched to the store, and then his wife and daughter drove to the store themselves.
After receiving permission from the family, firefighters broke the front window of the store to allow police to gain entry. They found Mr. Wong, deceased from a gunshot wound, in a rear hallway.
Video surveillance from the store and the nearby Days Inn, obtained during the extensive investigation that followed, showed the tragic scene and its aftermath unfold.
A man in reflective vest, later identified as Caroline, was seen entering the store and looking at the display cases with Mr. Wong. The man then pulled out a .40-.45 caliber silver handgun, and ordered Mr. Wong to place jewelry in a bag. Mr. Wong complied, handed over the bag, then started backing away. The man shot him once in the chest and left the store, prosecutors said.
The man in the vest was seen from the Days Inn getting into a Ford Explorer with the bag of jewelry, then driving away.
Police released surveillance images from the store, which led to a tip that the vest belonged to Parkinson Construction, which was doing masonry work on the new Wakefield High School, about two miles away. After police visited the job site, they received a call from the company’s attorney, informing them that one of their workers, James Sylvester Caroline, had recently applied for a transfer from the Wakefield job.
Caroline, who was on parole for credit card fraud, was found to drive a Ford Explorer. With that and other evidence, police obtained a warrant and, after Caroline left Wakefield on Aug. 1, 2012, he was pulled over by the Arlington police tactical unit on nearby King Street. The 53-year-old D.C. resident was arrested and held on an unrelated probation violation. He was charged with Wong’s murder two days later.
Detectives reportedly found papers in Sylvester’s car with the addresses of other jewelry stores which had recently been robbed. They found a pocket watch, believed to be stolen from Capital Jewelers. And they found a photo on Caroline’s cell phone depicting him with the silver handgun.
Upon further investigation, police found that Caroline had sold a watch at a pawn shop in Maryland 2-2.5 hours after the robbery on July 27. The watch, a Breitling, was determined to have been stolen from Capital Jewelers thanks to a serial number match.
Caroline displayed little emotion during the proceedings. With a team of three attorneys by his side, he quietly answered Judge Newman’s questions, affirming his agreement to and understanding of the plea.
Caroline’s family was in the courtroom for the judge’s sentence, but Wong’s family decided not to attend.
This article will be updated
Denise Marshall Roller pleaded to 11 felony counts, including embezzlement, forgery and money laundering. The 48-year-old Fredericksburg, Va. resident had worked since 2005 as the county fair’s event manager. She resigned last May, after police were tipped off to suspicious activity.
Investigators discovered that between February and May of last year, Marshall Roller deposited nearly $12,000 of checks intended for the fair into a fraudulent bank account. Court documents show she submitted forged bylaws to a local bank, which apparently allowed her to open an account in the fair’s name. She withdrew portions of the money over the three month period for her personal use, prosecutors said.
When confronted about the account by colleagues, police say Marshall Roller initially claimed she had set up a personal account at the bank and mistakenly deposited a county fair check into the account.
Marshall Roller is scheduled to be sentenced on April 27.
Roger K. Clark III entered a guilty plea on first degree murder charges today, prosecutors said. Circuit Court Judge Joanne F. Alper accepted the plea this afternoon. A sentencing hearing is now scheduled for April 27.
Diener, a 57-year-old Lyon Village resident, was found lying dead on a Clarendon street early on the morning of Dec. 29, 2009. A dogged investigation finally resulted in the arrest of Clark and another man in June 2011.
The second suspect in the case was later released after charges against him were dropped.
Shawn D. Wilmoth was the president of Signature Masters, the company paid to collect signatures for the 2010 petition drive that sought to change Arlington County’s form of government. The initiative, which failed due to an insufficient number of valid signatures, was sponsored by Arlington’s police and fire unions and supported by the local Republican and Green parties.
Wilmoth was arrested this past April in Michigan and accused of instructing employees to fraudulently sign petition pages. He was extradited to Arlington in May and has been held without bond since. Today, Wilmoth pleaded guilty. A statement of facts entered as part of the plea reveals that Wilmoth hired two ex-cons, who were ineligible to collect petition signatures under state law, and asked them to not only collect signatures but to sign as a witness on dozens of petition sheets filled with signatures they did not collect.
As part of the plea deal, Wilmoth was given two concurrent 5 year sentences, with 4 years and 8 months suspended on the condition of good behavior and repayment of court and extradition costs, according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andy Parker. Wilmoth was also sentenced to 3 years of supervised probation. Parker said he would likely be released from jail today after being credited with time served.
The two ex-cons hired by Wilmoth, Cheryl Simmons and William Cockerham, both pleaded guilty to voter fraud earlier this year.
An 18-year-old Arlington man has pleaded guilty to reckless driving after a crash that killed a 28-year-old woman and her dog near Washington-Lee High School.
Joseph DiFilippo pleaded guilty in Arlington General District Court on Aug. 25, prosecutors say. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, but the entirety of the jail term was suspended on the condition of good behavior and the completion of 200 hours of community service. DiFilippo is also required to speak about his actions before monthly driver’s license presentation ceremonies held at the Arlington County courthouse. Additionally, his driver’s license was suspended six months, the maximum allowed by state law.
“Pursuant to a plea agreement, three other traffic infractions were dismissed,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Clarke. She noted that DiFilippo had a valid driver’s license at the time of the accident, despite an initial charge of driving without a license.
Members of the victim’s family were present at the sentencing hearing, and testified about how the accident impacted their lives, Clarke said.
The accident occurred around 7:30 a.m. on Monday, April 11, as 28-year-old Arlington resident Alison Drucker was walking her dog across the Quincy Street Bridge. A statement of facts was not entered as part of the plea, but after the accident police said that a pickup truck driven by DiFilippo struck Drucker and her dog, Buckley, as the truck was traveling northbound on Quincy Street. The dog died at the scene and Drucker suffered a serious head injury. She died in the hospital two weeks later.
Prosecutors say the plea deal’s lack of jail time was a reflection of the evidence in the case.
“The charge brought against the defendant and the plea agreement which was reached was based upon extensive consideration of the evidence. Some cases are stronger than others and we are limited by the unique facts and evidence of each case,” Clarke said. “After consideration of the facts of this case, the case law which has interpreted and applied the Virginia reckless driving statute, and our burden of proof, we concluded that the plea agreement was appropriate.”
“As prosecutors, our decisions must be based upon the law and the evidence,” Clarke added. “However, as people, our hearts go out to the Alison Drucker’s family. The plea agreement should in no way be seen as a reflection of the great sympathy we have for the Drucker family and the loss which they have suffered.”
Guilty Plea in Arlington Child Prostitution Case — A former Westfield Wheaton mall security guard has pleaded guilty to enlisting a 16-year-old Arlington girl in his prostitution service. The 31-year-old Silver Spring man was accused of having sex with the girl, taking explicit photos of her and ordering her to have sex with eight men in Virginia and Maryland. [Gazette.Net]
Former O’Connell Teacher’s Car Found — The car of a former Bishop O’Connell High School teacher, missing since mid-June, has been found in a Rosslyn parking garage. The family of Tom Duesterhaus, who was last seen in Virginia Beach a day after the car was parked in the garage, says the discovery will likely not help with the search. [Patch]
Arlington Man’s Stamp Issued — Bill Bond, an Arlington resident and World War II veteran, designed “Owney the Postal Dog,” a new “Forever” stamp put into circulation by the United States Postal Service last week. [Beyond the Perf]
Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White
(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Cheryl Simmons, a convicted felon who collected signatures for last year’s change-of-government effort, pleaded guilty to voter fraud in Arlington County Circuit Court this morning.
Simmon’s guilty plea comes one week after another person hired to obtain petition signatures, William Cockerham, pleaded guilty to a similar voter fraud charge.
State law specifies that petition signatures must be witnessed by someone who is at least eligible to register to vote. As convicted felons, neither Simmons nor Cockerham were eligible.
Both Simmons and Cockerham were hired by Signature Masters, a firm that specializes in petition drives. The firm was contracted to collect signatures for last year’s unsuccessful attempt to change Arlington’s form of government, which was sponsored by Arlington’s police and fire unions.
In a statement of fact entered as part of today’s guilty plea, prosecutors said that Simmons told Shawn Wilmoth, the president of Signature Masters, that she had been convicted of a felony. Nonetheless, prosecutors say Wilmoth hired Simmons to collect signatures at a fee of $3 per signature. Later, when news reports revealed that Simmons was felon, Wilmoth told the Washington Post that Simmons had passed a background check.
“It was an issue with the background-check company we are dealing with,” he told the paper.
Prosecutors said most of the 55 petitions pages that Simmons signed as a witness were handed to her by Wilmoth at a local Starbucks. Only a few pages, prosecutors said, contained signatures she had actually collected.
So far, Wilmoth has not been charged with a crime.
Simmons’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 20. She remains free on bond.
A man who worked as a signature collector for last year’s change-of-government petition drive has pleaded guilty to voter fraud.
As an ex-con, Cockerham was ineligible to sign as a witness on petition forms. Nonetheless, prosecutors say he signed off on forms that he circulated and on forms that other people circulated, which is also prohibited.
At the time, Cockerham was working for a Colorado-based firm called Signature Masters, which had been hired by Arlington’s police and firefighter associations to thousands of gather signatures in order to get a proposal to change Arlington’s form of government on the ballot. So far, the company’s managers have not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.
A second defendant in the change-of-government voter fraud case, Cheryl Simmons, has a trial date set for March 15.