The topic of conversation this morning over over breakfast and coffee will most likely be the six charges of petty larceny and computer crime issued by the Virginia State Police against former Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gordon Earl Hannett Jr.
Details can be found in the story I wrote for this week’s edition of The Floyd Press.
Each of the charges, all Class 1 misdemeanors, carry a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail and a $2500 fine. They mean the man who once served as the chief law enforcement officer in Floyd County will, on January 15th of next year, will appear before a judge in General District Court not as a prosecutor but as a criminal defendant.
Because Hannett is a former county employee, a special prosecutor — Grayson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Douglas Vaught — will handle the case and a Special Agent from the Virginis State Police headed up the investigation. Because the charges Hannett faces involve computers owned by the government of Floyd County and county officials may be witnesses in the case, no county official can or will talk about the case.
Prosecuting a former public official is a tricky business and Vaught and the State Police are refusing to discuss details of the case. Court records show that Special Agent G.K. Harth filed the charges: three counts of petty larceny and three counts of "disabling computer software" under Virginia’s Computer Crimes law. I’ve learned from other sources that one or more of the charges stem from removal of a hard drive from a computer assigned to the Commonwealth’s Attorney office. The hard drive also contained programs and data from Hannett’s tenure as Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Hannett’s time as Commonwealth’s Attorney was marked with controversy. He challenged Circuit Judge Ray W. Grubbs’ appointment of Stephanie Shortt to serve as interim prosecutor while he served in Iraq with his Army reserve and appealed each loss of that challenge all the way to the State Supreme Court which upheld Shortt’s appointment. Republican bosses dumped Hannett in favor of former Montgomery County Prosecutor Eric Branscom, who beat Hannett handily in the GOP primary and then lost in the general election to Shortt. Hannett’s lackluster record as a prosecutor, which included an unbroken string of losses in jury trials, became a key issue in the GOP primary election in 2007.
Stay tuned. The Floyd County justice system moves into the New Year by fulfilling the old Chinese proverb that "may we live in interesting times." Besides, Hannett, former Animal Control Officer Garland D. Nester goes to trial on manslaughter and reckless use of a firearms charges.