By Linda Cicoira — Maria Danielle Owens, a former corporal at the Eastern Shore Regional Jail, who supervised 20 other officers and was convicted of having sex with a prisoner and providing him with a cell phone, was sentenced Monday in Northampton Circuit Court to five years in prison. All but three months of the term was suspended.
Judge W. Revell Lewis III sentenced Owens, 45, who was living in Parksley when she committed the crimes, to three years for carnal knowledge of a prisoner with all but two months suspended and to two years with all but a month suspended for providing a cell phone to a prisoner. After release, she will be on supervised probation for two years.
The incidents occurred in October 2017. She was fired from her job in November 2017. She was convicted in March 2018.
“It’s just a shame that this happened,” said Lewis. “I don’t know if you realized, you should realize, the safety issues for your coworkers. You put yourself as possibly being taken as a hostage … you know the rules that are at the jail (are) to prevent situations like that from happening … You exposed the people you work with and the other prisoners there to dangers,” the judge said.
“This is a gross, gross violation of the trust the sheriff and Capt. (Roger) Kennedy, (chief jailer), put in this lady,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Beverly Leatherbury. “She broke the sheriff’s rules. She broke that trust. She also violated the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Lewis allowed Owens to wait until Friday to start serving her time because guidelines for the terms individually called for her to be put on probation and that’s what she was expecting. However, when the offenses were run through the system together, the crimes called for incarceration of between a day and six months.
The defense learned of the combined guidelines for the first time Monday and the case was moved down the docket until Matthews could talk to Owens about it.
Sheriff David Doughty said she will probably be sent to Virginia Beach to serve her sentence because too many people know her at the Accomack Jail and at his facility.
When asked if she had anything she wanted to say, Owens, who wore a bright orange dress and large hoop earrings, quietly said, “I’m sorry.”
Defense attorney Brandon Matthews told the court Owens is working two jobs and finishing online college courses to get an associate’s degree. She started taking the course right after being charged and losing the job she held at the jail for 13 years.
Leatherbury noted that Owens got another deputy to alter records to hide her affair and the defendant refused to testify against inmate Jodecii Kiiwaan Purnell, then 26, of Westover, Md., who was charged with possession of a cell phone by an inmate.
The charge against Purnell was not prosecuted because the phone was never found.
Owens admitted she was having sex with Purnell. She denied that she provided him with a cell phone.
But there were nearly 250 calls, made through the jail phone system, between Owens and Purnell. In some of the calls, the officer and the inmate professed their love for one another. In exchange for Owens’ plea of guilty to the sex offense, she was allowed to remain free on bond until sentencing.
According to testimony and the court file, the two spent time alone together in his cell after the jail was locked down late at night. During the session, they kissed and had sex. Purnell denied having relations with Owens and says he did not have a cell phone. He was later moved to Accomack Jail where he continued to serve his time for possession of a firearm by a felon. He is no longer shown as being an inmate in the Virginia system.
Correctional officers have complete authority over the inmates who are confined to the regional jail, Investigator Michelle Hallette testified. They tell them where they can be, they lock them down and are tasked with monitoring them. Because of the relationship, there were times when checks were not done because Owens was with Purnell.
The other officer was afraid to say or do anything about it because of possible repercussions, Hallette said.
In one telephone conversation, Owens told Purnell he was not the first prisoner she had relations with.
“All I can do is hold my head up high,” Owens said during an interview with Hallette. “I’m not going to beat myself up … I don’t want anyone here at the jail to think bad of me… you’ve known me all these years. I don’t want nobody to judge me. I made a mistake. I had a weak moment.”
Matthews said Owens “didn’t even have a traffic ticket” before the crimes occurred. “She is highly regretful of this situation … She’s improved since this event … She’s doing all that she can do … She’s stayed out of trouble.”