Thread: Kay Hall
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Old 11-18-2009, 04:55 PM   #23
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If he did it, he's a really good liar on camera.

Richmond Times-Dispatch - Sunday, April 12, 1992

Robert J. Hall Jr. won his freedom the same way he lost it -- he maintained his innocence to the very end.

When a Northumberland County jury found him guilty nearly two years ago of crushing his wife beneath his pickup truck, Hall calmly told the judge he had nothing to do with Kay Hall 's death.

Five days of testimony, once interrupted by a rumbling thunderstorm that eerily forced proceedings to come to a halt in the old courthouse, focused over and over on the circumstances surrounding the death.

"I'm kind of taken aback right now, your honor," he told Circuit Judge Joseph C. Spruill Jr. in the hushed courtroom July 17. ' ' Over the past five days, I learned a lot of respect (for the court), and I appreciate your fairness, but I'm not guilty."

Hall, 51 at the time of the trial, was sentenced by jurors to the maximum penalty for second-degree murder -- 20 years in prison for the death of his wife, 45.

But nine days ago Hall left the Northumberland County courthouse a free man, having first won an appeal from the Virginia Court of Appeals on March 10 that overturned the verdict and sent his case back for possible retrial.

Hall earned his freedom on the basis of a plea agreement that ruled out the need for a second trial. In the agreement, he said he was willing to plead guilty to the second-degree murder charge while maintaining his innocence. Hall entered what is known as an Alford plea.

"He did not admit his guilt but accepted his plea because he believed the commonwealth's evidence could convict him beyond a shadow of a doubt," said M.M. Shelton, the lawyer who handled the appeal.

Under the plea agreement's terms, Hall was released on probation without having to serve any more jail time.

The agreement also specified a new sentence of 10 years in prison with all of the time suspended except for the 20 months already served. Hall will remain on probation for the length of his suspended sentence and is prevented from inheriting any of his wife's estate, valued at between $30,000 and $100,000.

Hall has since moved to Maryland, where Shelton said his client was living with one of his daughters. He could not be reached for comment and did not return a reporter's phone call.

Long before the trial, the story of Kay Hall 's death was presented on NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries." The program re-enacted the cocktail party the couple attended on the night of her death, using residents of the rural county -- including a man who later was appointed to the jury that heard Hall's case and declared him guilty.

The Halls lived in Lancaster County, but Mrs. Hall died in Northumberland. Mrs. Hall was crushed beneath the left front wheel of her pickup truck after leaving the country club party where she had been drinking. She was last seen driving over boxwoods in a lawn and narrowly missing a swimming pool, before backing up, getting her bearings and going on.

Hall's lawyers maintained during the trial that Mrs. Hall may have gotten out of her truck without placing the transmission fully into park and the vehicle lurched over her.

But Commonwealth's Attorney William J. LoPorto argued that Hall, who had been left stranded at the party and forced to ask a couple he'd met at the party for a ride home, found his wife at the dead end, pulled her from the cab and drove the truck over her body.

In light of the ambiguous plea, which can be taken two ways, is the mystery of Kay Hall 's death still unsolved?

"If you believe Bob Hall , yes," said Shelton. ' ' He maintained his innocence up until the end."

But LoPorto holds the other view of Hall's plea.

As prosecutor, he maintained throughout the trial that the Halls' marriage, strained by his financial failures in the oyster packing business that drained $70,000 of Mrs. Hall's savings, was also troubled by drink and discord.

"The plea speaks for itself," said LoPorto, who accepted the agreement on the pragmatic basis that it would yield a conviction without risking the case before another jury.

"He pleaded guilty on the basis of an Alford plea, the court entered a conviction of guilt. I'm interested in bottom lines, I'm not particularly interested in how you get there as long as it's fair."

No evidence was found linking Hall to the scene of Mrs. Hall's death.

LoPorto introduced witnesses who said the Hall's marriage was on the rocks and that they had seen Mrs. Hall covered with bruises. They recalled her saying she had been beaten by her husband.

Witnesses for the prosecution said they found broken false fingernails and fingerprint smears on the truck's windshield trim -- suggestions that Mrs. Hall had been yanked from the cab.

Hall testified that he and his wife were under financial strain and both were heavy drinkers, but that things had begun to turn around before Mrs. Hall's death. Both of them, he said, while musing over a photograph of his wife that he held in his hands, had taken new jobs that were beginning to pay well.

The appeals court overturned Hall's conviction based on the startling testimony of Carole D. Vandergrift, wife of a wealthy Loudoun County businessman. Ms. Vandergrift said she got to know the Halls when she and Mrs. Hall worked in Washington.

On the witness stand, Ms. Vandergrift said her former husband, William D. Carter, shot her in the head at their Middleburg area estate. After the attack, she said he drove in a race against time to his New York horse farm where he made several long-distance telephone calls upon his arrival to establish a record that distanced himself from the crime.

Witnesses testified that the Halls knew about the shooting and how Carter used the phone records as his defense. Mrs. Hall died two months after the murder attempt on Ms. Vandergrift.

At the Hall trial, LoPorto called attention to how Ms. Vandergrift's account matched circumstances at the Hall household on the night of Mrs. Hall's death.

LoPorto noted that telephone company records showed a 9:47 p.m. call from Hall's phone on the night Mrs. Hall was found dead at about 10 p.m.

The call still gave Hall just enough time, he argued, to make what he said was a 42-minute drive to the lonely backroad where Mrs. Hall was found and back again after being dropped off at his front door between 9:03 and 9:05 p.m. by a couple he met at the party.

Hall's lawyers argued that the drive could not be made that quickly in Hall's Jeep, which had been tested and found to do the narrow, crooked route in no less than 47 minutes.

Ms. Vandergrift stunned the courtroom, but the appeals court agreed with Hall's contention that the testimony should not have been permitted. The court said it had no relevance other than to prejudice the jury.

LoPorto said last week that he is satisfied with the plea agreement and doesn't regret having introduced Ms. Vandergrift as a witness despite Hall's lawyers' objections.

Since the Hall trial, Ms. Vandergrift's case against her husband has unraveled.

Carter was sentenced to 14 years in prison in March 1988. But he was freed in February when the judge set aside the verdict after hearing allegations by a county deputy that the commonwealth's attorney withheld evidence in the trial.

Court records show that Doug Poppa testified that Ms. Vandergrift told him shortly before she was wounded that she was so bitter toward her ex- husband that she would shoot herself, "if I could make it look like he did it."

The records show that Poppa said he relayed this information to the prosecutor before the trial but that it was never disclosed to defense lawyers. The Sheriff's Department said that Poppa has since been fired, but declined to elaborate.

Carter's case is now being handled by a special prosecutor. A date to retry him is expected to be scheduled during a hearing tomorrow.

Shelton, Hall's lawyer, he was prepared to ask for a new trial based on Poppa's testimony if the appeal had been denied. But the appeals court reversed the conviction and sent the case back to LoPorto, setting the stage for Hall's plea agreement.
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