JONESVILLE — More than two years after a jury found him guilty of two counts of involuntary manslaughter and other charges stemming from a June 2004 automobile crash, Johnny Creed Chadwell has been ordered to prison to serve his sentence of four years and two months.
Chadwell was found guilty of the manslaughter charges, driving on a suspended license and giving false information to police officers investigating the crash after a jury trial that ended on Jan. 6, 2006. He was sentenced to two years on each manslaughter conviction, one month on the suspended license charge, and one month for giving a false report.
However, Chadwell appealed the convictions and has remained free on bond since.
Lee County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shawn Hines said that over the strong objections of his office and the victims’ families, Designate Circuit Court Judge J. Robert Stump granted a motion to remain out of jail while Chadwell appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeals of Virginia.
On March 4, said Hines, the Supreme Court of Virginia refused to grant Chadwell’s last opportunity for an appeal, and on March 17 Stump issued an order requiring Chadwell to begin serving his sentence and to report by April 1.
According to evidence presented at trial, Jeremy “Drew” Bishop and Jamie Leonard Bishop died after they were ejected from a vehicle being driven by Chadwell on Old Nursery Road in western Lee County. Witnesses and physical evidence placed Chadwell driving his car on the wrong side of the road at a high rate of speed at the time of the crash.
Chadwell had crossed into the opposite lane of travel, then swerved to avoid a head-on collision with an approaching vehicle. He lost control, skidded across the roadway and hit an embankment, which cause his vehicle to flip onto its top.
Although he was restrained in the driver’s seat by a safety belt, when rescue workers removed him from the crash Chadwell denied being the driver of the vehicle and told the investigating Virginia State Police trooper that Drew Bishop was actually the driver.
When the officer informed Chadwell that eyewitnesses placed him behind the wheel, he responded that he “couldn’t help it if he looked like Drew.”
Chadwell also told the trooper that he was not driving because he was trying to get his license cleared up.
During the trial, several witnesses testified that they smelled an odor of alcohol on Chadwell at the scene and that he had low levels of alcohol and hydrocodone in his system after the crash. A toxicologist testified that those amounts could have been much higher at the time of the crash, and that when alcohol and narcotics are combined, there can be an additive effect on the person’s ability to drive.
Following his convictions, Chadwell first moved for the trial court to set aside his guilty verdicts as being contrary to the law. Stump disagreed with the motions, followed the jury’s verdicts, and imposed the sentences recommended by the jury.
The following August, Chadwell notified the court that he intended to appeal his convictions on a claim of insufficient evidence, failure of the court to try each charge separately and other alleged trial errors.
On April 24, 2007, the Court of Appeals ruled that the commonwealth presented sufficient evidence of his criminally negligent behavior to support each of the jury’s guilty verdicts. The court additionally determined that the trial court committed no error in allowing all of Chadwell’s charges to be tried together. The court explained that all of the charges were “intimately connected” with one another and that Chadwell was not prejudiced by trying all of the cases at one time.
The Court of Appeals further ruled that the commonwealth committed no error by introducing photographs of beer cans found strewn on the ground at the crash site. The court ruled that “the photographs accurately portrayed the scene after the crash and were not unduly prejudicial.”
Hines said that on May 4, 2007, Chadwell petitioned the Court of Appeals to reconsider its denial of his appeal. Attorney H. Ronnie Montgomery requested to appear before a panel of appellate judges to argue the case. Following the argument on Sept. 5, 2007, the Court of Appeals once again denied his petition for appeal for the reasons previously stated in April.
Chadwell next filed his petition for appeal on Sept. 27, 2007, in the Supreme Court of Virginia. Hines responded by filing a brief in opposition on Oct. 20, 2007. On March 4, 2008, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled on the petition, stating “upon review of the record in this case and consideration of argument submitted in support of and in opposition to the granting of the appeal, the Court refuses the petition for appeal.”