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Richmond weighs a review of questionable prison sentences

In 2016, David Annarelli was living in Floyd County with his wife and son, playing bass guitar in a band and running a small glass-blowing business.  He had no criminal record – no history of violence, but he had suffered a serious head injury, which medical experts say could have triggered a mental breakdown.

David Annarelli says a court did not consider his mental state when sentencing him to 15 years.
David Annarelli
David Annarelli says a court did not consider his mental state when sentencing him to 15 years.

“My mother had come down from Philadelphia to visit, and sometime in the afternoon I started acting erratically. It got so bad that night that I essentially was accusing the dogs of trying to sabotage me -- just saying crazy things. I destroyed the kitchen. No one in my family had ever seen me behave that way.”

When he got into a fight with his wife and 16-year-old, they called the cops, but ten minutes later they called back to say they were leaving, that Annarelli had calmed down and would be home alone. A short time later the police arrived.

“The dispatch told them not to knock and announce and, instead, to go around to the back of the house in a fenced yard," he says. "This is the dark of night in the middle of nowhere. There’s no lights on in the house, no lights on outside on the property.”

Annarelli says he remembers little about that night, and there was no recording from officers’ body cameras.

“The only video that I’m aware of is from the back seat of a police car where you can see that I’m obviously in a mental health crisis.”

Police claimed the back door was open, so they called inside, explaining they were with the sheriff’s office – investigating a domestic assault. They recalled him shouting down from the second floor, telling them to get out of his house, demanding to see ID, warning that he had a shot gun and threatening to use it. He came down, pointed his weapon at them, and they retreated to the yard.

“They’re shining flashlights in my face. The yelling match escalated. At this point they are calling for backup.”

Soon after, backup arrived – an officer kicking open the front door. Shots were fired and the officer – who was wearing a bullet-proof vest – was hit by several pellets suffering what the prosecutor called relatively minor injuries. Annarelli was arrested.

At trial he could have pled not guilty by reason of insanity, but that’s a difficult case to make and can lead to an indefinite stay in a facility for the criminally insane.

Instead, he accepted a plea deal. The prosecutor would drop some charges if he would plead no contest to malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer.

Sentencing guidelines suggested no more than four years and eight months. Instead, he got 15 years from Judge Marcus Long

“And this all occurred two days after the Charlottesville riots," Annarelli recalls. "The judge said he was making an example of me, and that that was not just for the county or the state but for the entire country – that the lawlessness would stop here!”

Now Annarelli spends his days writing letters to anyone who might help him to get out sooner.

“Once you’re in, that’s the end of it. It’s almost impossible to get back out!” he concedes.

He has apologized to the man he wounded, to the officer’s family and to the Floyd County Sheriff. He has an appeal before the state supreme court, and he’s keeping an eye on the current legislative session where a so-called Second Look bill may be considered. SB842 would make it possible for prison inmates to ask the court that sentenced them to take another look and consider suspending part of their punishment.

A lobbyist for criminal justice reform says the measure could pass with bi-partisan support, but there’s one possible impediment. The House Courts of Justice Committee chair, Rob Bell, is a former prosecutor who refused to even allow a vote on a similar measure during the last legislative session. We requested an interview with Bell, but he did not respond.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief