We’re Celebrating 1,000 Editions of the Post

By Linda Cicoira — Today marks a milestone for the Eastern Shore Post and the world of publishing in Accomack and Northampton counties.

You are about to read the Post’s 1,000th edition, and the staff is as excited about it as those were who brought you the first edition on June 2, 1999. Actually, deadline day is always a thrill for us as the pages are combined into your favorite locally owned, free hometown newspaper.

Troy Justis, the Post’s advertising manager, has been with the Post since the start, or 19 years, and brought the milestone to the attention of all. Linda Cicoira has been writing a column and reporting politics, crime, and education and making photos for the paper for 12 years. Angie Huether Crutchley, the classifieds manager, who is an occasional writer and photographer, has also served as an on-the-road sales representative. She’s been at the Post for a decade.

The paper was started by two journalists, the late Candy Farlow, who was the publisher, and Cheryl Nowak, the editor. Both did the news writing and were columnists. Both already had plenty of experience in the business. They worked together for about 10 years until Farlow sold her shares to her partner. 

Bill Sterling kicked off sports coverage for the Post in 2012. He and Nowak married and then two years ago they retired. The paper was purchased by business partners Ace Seybolt and Connie Morrison. Sterling now occasionally writes for the paper.

Since then, the new dynamic duo has continued the tradition of bringing comprehensive local news coverage to their readers. Morrison manages the enterprise and is the paper’s editor. She’s added food pages and the latest in theater to the mix. Seybolt contributes his knowledge from his many years as an entrepreneur. 

More employees joined the staff. Kimberly Perry is the Post’s graphic designer, Krystle Bono does sports and related photos, Stefanie Jackson covers Northampton County, Sam Sellard sells ads, and novelist David Martin serves as copy editor. James Brown has been delivering the papers to your favorite businesses for about 14 years. Anthony Justis and Chris Lilliston also make deliveries. This summer the Post’s intern was Parks Nunnally.

For years, Justis and his wife, J.J., wrote a NASCAR column and J.J. kept the books for the newspaper. They were the recipients of the first stork visit to the Post when their daughter, Baylee Justis, arrived in December 2000. The second baby arrived when Darbee Justis was born in 2002. Troy has also been blessed with two grandchildren and a third is on the way since he started working at the Post. Troy’s late son, Taylor, and late mother, Sherri, also worked for the post. Farlow was his mother-in-law. And he and J.J. married while working for the paper. 

The Post’s first edition was published around the time school was ending for the term in 1999. That inaugural edition featured then Sen. Chuck Rob on the cover. He visited Kiptopeke Elementary to offer congratulations on its designation as a National Blue Ribbon School. Former Chincoteague Police Chief Willis Dize and former Chincoteague Councilman Terry Howard were shown on the front page shaking hands.

During that first year of the Post, coverage included Hurricane Floyd, the devastating storm that damaged about 200 homes, including 20 on Tangier Island. The havoc was estimated, at one point, at more than $5 million and mostly occurred in Accomack County.

Believe it or not, Northampton officials were grappling with what to do about the poor conditions of county schools in 1999, an issue that continues to be debated by the school board, board of supervisors, and local parents today. 

Also, in 1999, for the first time since 1951, rabies was discovered in a dog on the Eastern Shore. That happened near Hallwood. Another issue of the day was a commuter toll on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that caused people to fear that Northampton would turn into a bedroom community for Hampton Roads. That possibility still crosses the minds of many who live on the Eastern Shore.

In December 1999, the old Accomack County administration building was demolished to make room for the new courthouse where general district and juvenile and domestic relations courts have resided ever since.

The Post was there to take you into the new millennium and plans to be 

around after your great, great, great, great-grandchildren turn 100 years old. We brought you the details when Walmart came, when the hospital moved, the saga of arson with Tonya Bundick and Charlie Smith, and when the huge rocket blew up at Wallops Island. We also brought you the first photo ever taken in Northampton Circuit Court, the one with the longest continuous court records in the country, in July 2017, when Cicoira made a picture of killer Winston “PeeWee” Leroy Burton.

In May 2006, Farlow wrote about the permit that was approved to allow a temporary 175-foot pier to be erected at an estate near Eastville with a promise to completely remove it by the end of August of that year. The more than $25,000 structure was for the wedding of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch. 

Farlow also wrote about the future of the Onancock Carnival grounds in 2006 and about former Exmore Police Officer Mark Linton making it through the first round of voting in the Country Music Television’s Music City Madness Competition. The list of her stories and insights from her columns are endless.

The late Bill Massey, a former Post stockholder, was always about the Shore writing feature stories. For one, he told us about Mr. B of Accomac and his win of the Award of Merit at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Dog Show held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Ron West also wrote for the Post for years covering Northampton and its towns and giving all the latest about the Coast Guard.

In June 2019, the Post will celebrate its 20-year anniversary. That’s when we give you even more Post history, and you will hear from each of us.

Northampton Schools Bask in ‘Phenomenal News’ of SOL Accreditations

By Stefanie Jackson — For the first time in more than a decade, Northampton has more than one of its four public schools fully accredited – in fact, it has three fully accredited schools, Superintendent Eddie Lawrence announced to the school board Aug. 9.

Northampton High School, Kiptopeke Elementary School, and Occohannock Elementary School have all achieved full accreditation, and Northampton Middle School is accredited with conditions.

“They can only get better,” Lawrence said of the preliminary Standards of Learning (SOL) test results that have been released by the Virginia Department of Education.

All SOL subjects require a 70 percent passing rate for full accreditation except English, which requires a 75 percent passing rate.

The SOL passing rates at the high school as of Lawrence’s Aug. 9 report are: English, 80 percent; math, 70 percent; science, 84 percent; and history, 71 percent.

Lawrence attributed the lower passing rate in math to the fact that the middle and high school were short one shared math teacher this past school year.

The middle school’s SOL passing rates are: English, 65 percent; math, 65 percent; science, 65 percent; and history, 78 percent. The school, accredited with conditions, fares largely better when looking at average SOL passing rates over the last three years: English, 67 percent; math, 72 percent; science, 69 percent; and history, 75 percent.

Initiatives to improve performance include increasing the quantity and quality of writing across the school division and challenging students with higher level questioning.

Kiptopeke Elementary School SOL passing rates currently stand at: English, 73 percent; math, 75 percent; science, 87 percent; and history, 78 percent. 

Kiptopeke student SOL performance improved across the board since the previous year except for a slight drop in English, but Kiptopeke’s three-year average English passing rate of 77 percent is sufficient for full accreditation.

Lawrence called the report that not two, but three of four Northampton schools are simultaneously fully accredited “phenomenal news … I can’t tell you how proud I am” of the teachers and staff.

Occohannock Elementary School, the only Northampton school to achieve full accreditation last year, held its ground. Its current SOL passing rates are: English, 83 percent; math, 82 percent; science, 76 percent; and history, 87 percent.

Northampton schools also made strides this past school year to improve attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism, which correlates to student academic performance. Lawrence said the final numbers exceeded his expectations.

At Northampton High School, the number of students who missed 18 or more school days, or about 10 percent or more of the instructional year, dropped by more than half, from nearly 30 percent to about 13 percent of students.

The rate of chronic absenteeism at Northampton Middle School dropped from almost 24 percent to less than 20 percent. At Kiptopeke Elementary, it fell from about 16 percent to less than 11 percent. At Occohannock Elementary, it dipped from about 17 percent to less than 11 percent.

Lawrence credited the gains in attendance to the hard work of Director of Special Programs Keren Plowden’s truancy team and lots of phone calls to parents.

Northampton High School also increased its graduation rate from about 83 percent to 91.5 percent. Another student who recently completed graduation requirements will further increase that percentage.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, the joint committee of school board members and county supervisors forming the plan to renovate or reconstruct the aged and deteriorating Northampton High School met for the first time.

Before the committee can examine all possible options for the building, its first task is to determine the number of students to be served by the facility, the amount of square footage needed per student, and the total square footage needed. 

The committee meets Wednesdays at 4 p.m. in the Northampton High School library; meetings are open to the public.

Accomack Board Explores Funding Change After Tourism-Poultry Kerfuffle

By Linda Cicoira — Accomack supervisors are unhappy the Eastern Shore Tourism Commission did not act to reprimand its director.

The words “Outlaw Industrial Chicken Farming,” posted at a recent economic summit attended by the governor and other top state officials, and attributed to Kerry Allison, executive director of the tourism commission, reverberated at the supervisors’ session.

Supervisor Grayson Chesser brought up the topic. “You don’t point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot,” he said his father always told him. Chesser compared Allison’s words to the weapon. Likewise, he said, “Words out of the mouth are like bullets out of a gun.” Once you shoot them off, you can’t take them back, he explained.

Chesser said Allison showed “An alarming lack of understanding of the economy of the Eastern Shore. I don’t know her well …  She may be a wonderful person. To me, her remarks were callous and insensitive. They were like a slap in the face to me and my neighbors … the people who work in the poultry plants are my neighbors. I see them every day. When you say outlaw, that’s saying these people are not worth anything to our economy.”

“Our people work in the houses, they work in the plants, they drive the trucks … what’s more value added than taking an ear of corn or some soybeans and turning it into a chicken?” he asked. And then turning that into fried chicken. “That’s twice value added,” he said. “These are good jobs.”

Chesser referred to two people who came before the board recently telling the stories of what Tyson has done for them.

“Without the poultry plant, you wouldn’t have a Walmart (and) you wouldn’t have a hospital because you wouldn’t have the population to support” them, he continued. “These are not minimum wage jobs. And if you are smart … you can work your way up the ladder.”

It may not rank up there with Marie Antoinette telling the people who had no bread to eat cake, “But it is close,” he said. Chesser was referring to the famous bride of France’s King Louis XVI and her alleged response to learning peasants were hungry in 1789.

“It makes me so mad I could bite nails in two,” Chesser said, adding that he needed to stop talking so that he didn’t do as he said earlier and “shoot bullets” with his speech.

Chairman Robert Crockett agreed with Chesser. “Poultry is our anchor tenant,” he said. “That would be devastating for us … high ranking state officials saw that … to make such a comment … is harmful to this county … now back in Richmond, you know they are talking about this.”

Crockett made the motion for county staff to explore a new approach of promoting tourism in Accomack by teaming up with local chambers “and to assist Chincoteague for the first time.”

Supervisor Ron Wolff mentioned an email supervisors saw about the subject from Steve Potts, chairman of the tourism commission and a business owner on Chincoteague. “We didn’t discuss poultry period,” Wolff said Potts wrote. The tourism chairman’s comment was taken to mean Allison was not speaking for the commission when she wrote her remark in a survey taken by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission.

Wolff complained Potts did not report a course of action to reprimand Allison. “There still should have been some type of discussion” between Potts and Allison. “Did she act alone?” Wolff wondered out loud.

Northampton County does not allow poultry houses. It also does not have a poultry plant. Chesser said 10 percent of Northampton residents work for the two plants in Accomack. The tourism commission budget is funded with $86,500 from Accomack and $144,000 from Northampton.

Convictions on 3 of 12 Counts in Murder-for-Hire Trial

By Linda Cicoira — The suspected shooter in a murder-for-hire case was convicted by an Accomack Circuit Court jury Friday of three counts of conspiracy. The panel was deadlocked on nine other counts including the attempted capital murder of an Eastern Shore Drug Task Force informant and his then-girlfriend last Halloween in the Boston area of Painter.

The six women and six men then returned to the jury room to debate sentences for the three convictions. Approximately an hour later, the foreperson said the jury recommended a total of 17 years in prison for Roquan Leeteq Rogers, who goes by Kake, Cake, Young Sam, or Little Sam, 19, of Benjamin Banneker Road in Exmore.

A breakdown showed 10 years for conspiracy to commit capital murder for hire, five years for conspiracy to commit capital murder involving a prisoner, and two years for conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice.

When the jurors were polled, a male juror said that he did not agree with the recommendation.

Defense lawyer Curtis Brown then motioned for a new trial. Judge W. Revell Lewis III denied the request but agreed to accept a brief on the subject. Brown has 21 days to prepare and submit the document. Once the court receives it, Accomack Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan will have 10 days to respond.

Meanwhile, Rogers was taken back to Accomack Jail, where he is being held without bond.

Even if Lewis does not grant a new trial for the conspiracy convictions, Morgan could retry the other counts because the jury did not decide those. Morgan declined to comment Monday when asked what would be done.

Testimony disclosed Nathaniel “Nate” Johnson, 31, was the informant who was given money from the task force to buy cocaine from the defendant’s brother, Akeem Rogers, in Northampton County, and from Evron Terrell Strand, in Accomack County. Johnson testified against Akeem Rogers and was set to attest to selling cocaine to Strand, who was charged with being the mastermind of the attempted murder plot.

Akeem Rogers’ trial was in October 2017. About two weeks later, Johnson and Desiree Smith, 19, were walking in Linhaven Circle when they were shot.

Both Johnson and Smith testified that Roquan Rogers was the shooter. Johnson was shot in the back and buttocks. He said he recognized the defendant that night by the unusual shape of his mouth, his dreads, and his body style. Smith said she saw his face when she turned to look and the flash of the gunfire illuminated him. Both said they knew him.

During a short break in testimony, while Smith was on the witness stand, Judge Lewis accused an unidentified man in the gallery of attempting to intimidate Smith.

Roquan Rogers pleaded not guilty to attempted murder of Johnson; using a firearm in the attempted murder; conspiracy to commit capital murder between August and November 2017; conspiracy to murder by a prisoner; attempting to intimidate or impede a witness; making threats against a witness; maliciously wounding Johnson and Smith; attempted murder for hire; murder for hire of another from a prisoner; and use of a firearm to maliciously wound Johnson and Smith.

Former Northampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Bruce Jones worked with Morgan to prosecute Roquan Rogers. Jones retired in December. He was the prosecutor at Akeem Rogers’ trial.

Three days were initially set aside for the trial, which ran into a fourth day. The tension was high in the courtroom with Brown objecting to many of Morgan’s questions to witnesses. Brown unsuccessfully attempted several times to persuade Lewis to declare a mistrial.

Cynthia Harmon, who was also charged in the murder-for-hire scheme, testified that she set up the hiring by Strand with Roquan Rogers and several others. She identified herself as Strand’s partner in the illegal business. Her son Debrandon Harmon was amount those asked to kill Johnson, she said. Cocaine, weapons, and cash were confiscated from her home.

The third Rogers brother, Rovonte Rogers, 22, of Exmore, was sentenced five years in prison Monday in Northampton Circuit Court to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. All three brothers are awaiting trial on cocaine related charges in Northampton from indictments filed in May.

Comp Plan Hearing Highlights Conflict Between Northampton Factions

By Stefanie Jackson — A public hearing on Northampton’s comprehensive plan held by the county planning commission Aug. 7 in the Northampton Middle School auditorium appeared to accomplish little more than highlight the conflict between the commissioners rewriting the plan and the citizens whose interests the plan is intended to protect.
The first sign of conflict appeared at the beginning of the meeting. A complaint about the comprehensive plan often repeated by Northampton citizens is the lack of public input in its rewrite. After the meeting began nearly 20 minutes late due to difficulty unlocking the building, Chairman Mark Freeze spent another five minutes reading the list of names of individuals and organizations who provided input on the plan.
“Can I say something?” Sandra Beerends interrupted. “We know how to read and we have a copy of it.”
“I’m reading it into the record,” Freeze responded.
Later, Andrew Barbour said, “You’re trying to justify that you have citizen input. … My name was on there, and I don’t really feel like I had a huge amount of input.”
He called the planning commission’s consideration of public comments from its monthly meetings as part of the “input package” for the comprehensive plan “nonsense” and said, “That is not how you generate focused feedback.”
He also questioned the validity of the phone survey conducted six years ago by American Strategies Inc. “ASI is not a survey company,” but “a lobbying group” whose role “is not to sample public opinion, it’s to shape it on behalf of its clients,” Barbour said.
Furthermore, the survey was paid for by the National Association of Realtors at the request of the Eastern Shore Association of Realtors, he added.
There are parts of the plan Barbour agrees with and parts he strongly disagrees with, “but none of that matters because this rewrite should be dead on arrival” because “we have no idea if it accurately reflects the wishes of the citizens of Northampton County.”
The citizen input used from meetings in 2009 is “useless, if not deliberately misleading” and came just one year after the Great Recession, Barbour said. “That’s why everyone talks about how ugly and depressing” the comprehensive plan is. “This is not the same county.”
Andrew Follmer called Freeze’s reading of the list of contributors to the comprehensive plan a “disgraceful and disingenuous display” and said, “The only reason to use data that is more than five years old for an exercise that is legally required to be completed every five years is cherry-picking.”
Martina Coker disagreed with the plan’s statement that “entrepreneurial activity may indicate underlying economic problems” and pointed out that New Ravenna and Moonrise Jewelry, which the plan calls successful manufacturing companies, both were started by entrepreneurs. She also found the de-emphasis of entrepreneurship in the plan “ironic” considering Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent visit to the Eastern Shore to celebrate the opening of 14 new businesses in Cape Charles, all begun by local entrepreneurs.
David Boyd added that when jobs are counted in the comprehensive plan, any kind of self-employment is excluded, discounting nearly all aquaculture, ecotourism, and local artisans. “No wonder they think we’re hurting for jobs,” he said.
Other concerns about the comprehensive plan were the apparent exclusion of the visions of the working waterfront villages of Willis Wharf and Oyster, and the reclassification of 36 hamlets as villages, which would double housing density in many flood-prone areas.
There was also conflict between the planning commission and its own staff. Commissioner Kay Downing blamed Senior Planner Kelley Lewis Parks for not having a PowerPoint presentation on the proposed changes to the comprehensive plan ready for public view.
When Parks asked when the request was made, Downing answered, “At our work sessions. That’s it, I’m not hearing anymore.”

NASA Denies Study Will Be Used To Downsize Workforce

By Linda Cicoira — A NASA review team that is working on a 20-year facilities master plan has been falsely accused of eliminating jobs at Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) and other centers, according to an email that was sent Tuesday to all area NASA employees.
Christopher J. Scolese, director of the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), addressed his colleagues by writing, “Recent media reports, based on statements of individuals from outside NASA, have misstated the activities of the Greenbelt-Wallops Review Team, incorrectly stating that the team is considering cost-cutting or downsizing measures. The team is doing nothing of the sort.”
“As NASA has increased the emphasis on partnerships and commercial activities, and as the agency as a whole works towards implementation of the new operating model, Goddard management must adapt,” Scolese continued. “The team has not been asked to look at potential cuts to GSFC, Greenbelt, Wallops, IV&V, GISS, White Sands, or any other component and will not make any recommendations in that area.”
“As an entirely separate activity, pursuant to Office of Management and Budget direction, NASA Headquarters has directed Goddard, as well as all other NASA Centers, to identify strategies to reduce the cost of NASA facilities for purposes of developing an agency 20-year facilities master plan. The master plan will contain no directions for the workforce and is unrelated to the Greenbelt-Wallops Review Team’s work. Any potential facilities impact at Greenbelt, Wallops, and other Goddard components is only a concept at this time. However, the current Goddard master plan concept confirms the importance of all Goddard components, including specifically the importance of the Wallops Flight Facility as a mission critical operational facility.”
Wallops Island Regional Alliance is a nonprofit with membership including a long list of NASA contractors and boasts its ability to receive up-to-date developments in the surrounding local and global industries, broadening professional networks, and raising professional profiles.
The group’s chairman, Peter Bale, reportedly told reporters last week that Goddard is exploring cost-cutting measures throughout its agency. He voiced concern about the potential infrastructure reduction and what that would mean to the local economy.
“The bottom line is that if this were to occur and if these reductions took place at either part of the facility, we have a workforce of about two and a half thousand people,” Bale told WBOC TV in Salisbury, Md. “I would see within twelve months a reduction of about 1,000 to 1,500 people and also see the loss of revenue on Delmarva.”
Goddard is about 6.5 miles from Washington, D.C. in Greenbelt, Md.
Last Friday, WFF issued a statement to dispel rumors. “Wallops is not closing nor is there an effort to look at reducing the workforce.”
The press release also quoted Ken Human, who is leading the review team. “The importance of a synergistic relationship between the two campuses is vital to the future of each campus and Goddard Space Flight Center as a whole,” he said.

Mistrial a Possibility in Murder-for-Hire Trial Underway in Accomac

By Linda Cicoira
The possibility of a mistrial loomed at press time Thursday as testimony continued for a third day in Accomack Circuit Court in the murder-for-hire trial of Roquan T. Rogers, the young man suspected of shooting and attempting to kill a police informant last Halloween in the Boston area of Painter.
Defense lawyer Curtis Brown of Norfolk motioned Wednesday for Judge W. Revell Lewis III to rule the trial as invalid because it was disclosed to the jury that Rogers, who also goes by Kake, Cake, Young Sam, or Little Sam, 19, of Benjamin Banneker Road in Exmore, and his two brothers were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
The three were indicted on those charges in Northampton in May. Usually, a jury isn’t privy to hearing about suspicions that are not part of the charges being decided. In this case, there was a possibility those charges could be linked to the ones being tried.
Police and court records have concluded the murder scheme was fueled by cocaine distribution, revenge, money, and informant Nathaniel “Nate” Johnson, 31, who was shot three times while walking in Linhaven Circle with his girlfriend at the time, Desiree Smith, 19. She was hit in the foot by gunfire.
Johnson was the informant used by the Eastern Shore Drug Task Force to collect evidence against the defendant’s brother and another man, who was the mastermind of the murder scheme.
Both Johnson and Smith testified that Roquan Rogers was the shooter. Johnson was shot in the back and buttocks. He said he recognized the defendant that night by the unusual shape of his mouth, his dreads, and his body style. Smith said she saw his face when she turned to look and the flash of the gunfire illuminated him. Both said they knew him.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan and former Northampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Bruce Jones were working together to prosecute Roquan Rogers. Morgan was doing the talking. He said the motive was revenge because Johnson testified against his brother, Akeem Rogers, earlier in October, and because he wanted the money that was offered for Johnson’s death.
Roquan Rogers pleaded not guilty to attempted murder of Johnson; using a firearm in the attempted murder; conspiracy to commit capital murder between August and November 2017; conspiracy to murder by a prisoner; attempting to intimidate or impede a witness; making threats against a witness; maliciously wounding Johnson and Smith; attempted murder for hire; murder for hire of another from a prisoner; and use of a firearm to maliciously wound Johnson and Smith.
Judge Lewis took the motion regarding the mistrial under advisement and said he would rule after the prosecution finished presenting its evidence. The debate about the possibility of a mistrial was not discussed in front of the jury or Steve Lewis, the Eastern Shore Drug Task Force officer who spilled the beans when he was asked by Morgan about his knowledge of the Rogers brothers.
Judge Lewis had the court reporter read that portion of the testimony back to the jury and told them to disregard it. He also struck it from the record. Steve Lewis said the conspiracy charges were brought against the Rogers brothers because of DNA and fingerprint evidence.
Brown argued that reading the testimony to the jury made it even more prejudicial. The defense lawyer said he didn’t blame Morgan for the answer Steve Lewis had given. Steve Lewis also was not present when the jury got the instruction and was brought back into the courtroom to finish testifying.
Thursday, Brown motioned again for the mistrial after a phone call between the defendant and Akeem Rogers (recorded because Akeem Rogers was in jail) was played for the jury. Brown contended that all the cursing in the conversation could prejudice jurors against him. Judge Lewis denied that motion.
Brown continuously talked over others and at one point was so disrespectful to the judge that it appeared he was scolded for it during a sidebar with the lawyers and judge. Brown was keeping true the promise he made at a bond hearing:
“I would tell the court this, we are going to fight this case nail and teeth.
“He’s never been in trouble before,” he said referring to Roquan Rogers. “That’s got to count for something. Attempted to go to school (at the Eastern Shore Community College), that has to count for something.”
On Wednesday the day ended in the middle of Cynthia Harmon’s testimony. Harmon, 52, of Parksley, now an inmate at Accomack Jail, was also charged in the scheme. She testified that she helped carry out plans for Johnson’s murder in conversations and text messages with her boyfriend and drug business associate, Evron Terrell Strand, 43. Strand was an inmate in Accomack Jail when the shooting occurred. Harmon and Strand are also accused of asking Aaron Jamarcus Bowens, also known as Easy and BOBO, 22, of Big Pine Road in Painter, to commit murder. Bowens was charged with being a part of the scheme.
Ironically, Johnson said he called Bowens before he was shot and asked for help because he was being followed. When Jones was still Northampton’s prosecutor he publicly accused Bowens of killing Terrell Devone Mason, also known as Juice, a 26-year-old father of eight who was gunned down several years ago through the window of an Exmore shed where neighborhood family and friends gathered to play cards.
That neighborhood in the New Roads area is where the Rogers brothers lived and where Smith’s father and grandmother live.
Court records also state that Keenan Jibrel Berry, 26, of Jermaine Lane in Parksley, and Harmon’s son, DeBrandon Pierre Harmon, 29, of Dennis Drive in Parksley, were also asked to kill Johnson for $3,000.
Cocaine, handguns, cash, and a digital scale were among the items seized from the house where the Harmons lived. Cynthia Harmon said she was testifying “because it is the right thing to do.” She said the prosecution did not make any promises in exchange for her testimony.
It was also disclosed that Johnson was paid for being an informant and was being supported by the police who are constantly protecting him. Smith testified that when she and Johnson were visiting a home in Boston the night of the shooting, Johnson kept asking a man who was only identified as Dewey for “mollies,” a drug that Steve Lewis said was like ecstasy. Smith could not remember if she had taken a pill the night the shooting occurred. She also initially said she didn’t know who the shooter was because she feared for her life.
Danny Lashawn Campbell Jr., 32, formerly of Wilson Court in Cape Charles, testified Thursday that he was in jail with Roquan Rogers and that Rogers confided in him details about the conspiracy for murder. Campbell was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but four years suspended for distribution of cocaine and a third offense of assault and battery of a family member. The offenses occurred in September 2016 and June 2017. He also said no promises were made in exchange for his testimony.
Thursday, Cynthia Harmon was not brought back in to finish testifying. But there were plans for her to do so later in the day.

Tourism Director Ruffles Some Feathers at Economic Development Workshop

By Linda Cicoira — When Chairman Robert Crockett of the Accomack Board of Supervisors attended an invitation-only economic workshop recently in Onancock, he said he became “alarmed” by the large note posted on the wall behind the session’s speakers, which included Gov. Ralph Northam.

“Outlaw Industrial Chicken Farming,” Accomack’s biggest industry, was the message staring at Crockett on a 5-inch by 7-inch, or larger, yellow paper. “Comments were posted on the wall and everyone was facing that wall,” Crockett said Tuesday. “It was clear from where I was sitting what it said. When you got closer you could see that her name was affixed on that comment.” 

Crockett was speaking of Kerry Allison, executive director of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission.

“I believe the tourism commission, they need to address the comment that was made,” Crockett continued. “The position that their executive director took to the governor, I can’t, I don’t, understand why she would make a comment like that. Because I can’t see how it (chicken farming) is going to harm tourism at all. The stronger our economy is, the better all parts of our economy are,” Crockett said.

Allison is on a two-week vacation to Ireland, a phone call to her office confirmed. An email to her was immediately returned and stated, “I am out of the office until Monday, Aug. 13.” 

Crockett said since Allison attended the session and was there representing the commission, he figured she was conveying the feelings of the tourism board. The poultry industry in Accomack involves more than 4,000 jobs.

“I see it as a very serious issue with a person with her position. … Is that their position?” he said of the commission. “If not, they need to come out and say it’s not their position.” 

Crockett would not say if the board of supervisors would publicly discuss or take action on the issue.

“I think it’s a mountain out of a molehill,” said Steve Potts, chairman of the tourism commission. “We are the fastest growing industry,” he said of tourism. “I don’t know if that’s newsworthy. I’d have to talk to the powers that be who were there. If someone sent me a survey, would I tell them what they wanted to hear? … Seems kind of crazy that someone from the A-NPDC (Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission) would want to damage someone. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Potts said he was going to investigate the situation. He didn’t get back to the Eastern Shore Post by press time. Supervisor Laura Belle Gordy, who serves on the tourism commission, said the panel has never discussed the poultry industry.

A-NPDC Planning Director Curt Smith said when comments were solicited, “It was made clear that all ideas would be shared with others.” He said a summary report that will go to state agencies would be ready in about seven to 10 days. “We gave everybody a chance to submit a project idea.” They got five words that were printed and posted with their names attached to them. There were 50 to 60 ideas. “I treated it like every other comment that came in. It was posted like every other idea.”

Smith said Allison’s comment did not come up during the meeting. 

The Virginia Housing Development Authority, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation were among the state agencies that attended. Smith was asked to facilitate the session. “I set it up to put the state agencies to task,” he said.

Supervisor Grayson Chesser was not pleased with Allison’s comment. “It is pretty disturbing when the rep of one industry here attacks another industry here. We’re all supposed to be working for the better of the two counties. Whether you like poultry or not, it is by far the largest industry here, for Northampton too, as one in 10 from there works in the plants … She could have said lessen impacts or friction between industrial poultry and the tourist industry. I wouldn’t agree with that. I think we’ve already done it. You have to remember not everybody likes tourism … Not everybody is in love with tourism but it is part of our economy. Agriculture and the poultry industry dwarfs tourism and that’s not to put down tourism either.”

“She has a perfect right to her own opinion,” Chesser continued. “But you don’t have a right to your own opinion when you are representing an agency … These are my friends and neighbors. She’s saying their jobs should be outlawed.”

“The ball’s in the tourism commission’s court,” the supervisor said. “I’m pretty sure all of them know about it.” So what does he want to happen? “That’s not for me to say, we don’t have any say over who they hire, I don’t think. If that is the official possession of the tourism commission, I will not look too favorably on the tourism commission. I certainly hope it’s not and I don’t think it is. This is people’s lives you’re dealing with, their livelihood. You don’t do that flippantly.”

“This is the one industry where people can raise a family, get food health insurance, retirement, have a car, put kids through college, and move up” in the company, Chesser said.

Accomack included $86,500 in its budget for the tourism commission this year. Northampton gave $144,000.

Guilty Pleas From Woman Who Neglected, Caged Her Children

By Linda Cicoira — Malista Ann Ness-Hopkins pleaded guilty Thursday in Accomack Circuit Court to neglecting five of her children “in a manner so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life.” 

She could be sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison and fined $12,500.

After a complaint was filed with the county’s department of social services last summer, a worker went to the defendant’s Mearsville home and found the residence was filthy, it smelled of urine and feces, the children had lice and flea bites, and two of them were held in makeshift crib cages, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elizabeth Wolff told the court. 

Three of the children were under three years old. All were younger than 18. One growled and hissed “like a caged animal,” Wolff said.

Judge W. Revell Lewis III allowed Ness-Hopkins, 39, formerly of Gladding Road, who is now living in Accomac with a friend, to remain free on $10,000 bond until sentencing, which is scheduled for December. 

The children are in the custody of their grandmother and foster care. 

In late 2016, Wolff said, another of the defendant’s nine children was living with her. The daughter stated Ness-Hopkins would punish the children by locking them in their room or crib and withholding food. The defendant’s mother was also aware of her locking them in their cribs. Wolff said Ness-Hopkins had promised not to do that again.

It was later realized the youngest child was seven months behind in getting vaccinations. Another child was diagnosed with reactive detachment disorder caused by severe neglect. A third child was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and another unspecified disorder. All visitation with Ness-Hopkins “was ceased” for the third child, the prosecutor said. 

“The defendant found herself overwhelmed in the situation she was in,” defense lawyer Tucker Watson said. “She was residing in a home that was dilapidated” and she had no income. She planned to move to Whitestone, Va. “When social services entered the house, they did observe boxes.”

Watson said Ness-Hopkins’ boyfriend died in May 2016. “It was a devastating point in her life. Depression and grief and the overwhelming nature of taking care of five small children triggered the neglect. She was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from her own childhood … she is heartbroken for many reasons. It saddens her that she and her children had to live in that situation … the two young boys had experienced climbing out of the cribs … and it is a well-documented risk.” 

Watson said there are numerous gadgets on the market that keep children from climbing out of their cribs. “The defendant obviously didn’t have the money to buy those.” He said his client locked them in the cribs when they were sleeping and she was doing the same. 

“She would deny that she ever disciplined the children in a dangerous manner.” There was “no evidence of abuse, no injuries. Only neglect. She had been attending doctors visits for all her children and there are records of that.” 

Lewis said he would consider a detention and retention program as requested by Watson.

Parksley: The Shore’s Little Town That Could

By Linda Cicoira — Parksley, the little town that could, has been gaining momentum in its quest to return to its former life as a thriving metropolis.
With bragging rights of being the future home of Eastern Shore Public Library and Heritage Center, having the best bridal boutique in Virginia, combining art into the scene, erecting a war memorial, revitalizing its look, opening a DMV office, housing the county’s public works department, and planning a fall festival to commemorate its 30-year-old railroad museum, things are moving and shaking there. It’s all part of the plan to bring more people to Parksley to visit, shop, and live.
The town’s history goes back to the mid-1880s and the beginnings of the railroad on the Eastern Shore. Parksley was the second planned town, coming after Cape Charles, and was laid out in 1885 under the management of the Parksley Land Improvement Company.
In 1898, there was an attempt to relocate the county seat from Accomac to Parksley. That feat was not successful, but in modern days the push to move the library from the aging building in Accomac to a renovated structure in Parksley made the cut. A former grocery store will be used as a shell and made larger for a new facility that will also include a meeting hall and more computer access for the public. The fruition is more than a year away.
Parksley was incorporated in 1904. At one point it was a significant shipping point for seafood and produce harvested in the area. These days, a seafood store is among the newer shops and a farmers market is in the center of town.
During World War II, Parksley was the site of the Shore National Guard Armory and its airfield was used by the Civil Air Patrol. It was also home to the Parksley Spuds, a team that played in the Eastern Shore Baseball League.
Parksley was flourishing 35 years ago. “We had two grocery markets, two banks, the shirt factory was open, and the Lunch Box (restaurant) was open,” said Deborah Russell, who owns Russell’s Formal
& Bridal with her family.
The bridal shop was named among of “Best of 2018” in the state by Virginia Living magazine. “Elegant dresses line the walls of this 34-year-old shop, including gowns from Justin Alexander, known for classic silhouettes and clean lines, the Beloved collection by Casablanca, with its airy and bohemian feel, and the Rebecca Ingram collection by Maggie Sottero, with its trademark lace and timeless romantic aesthetic,” the publication stated.
Russell talked about the decline of the town with optimism for what it can be again.
“It all started to crumble when the shirt factory closed, then Parksley Drug sold to CVS, then Shore Bank and PNC closed branches, and finally the grocery stores went,” she said. “We managed to survive all the closings and worked very hard to keep Parksley alive.”
Russell’s husband Frank also owns an auto repair business in Parksley with his brother, Fred. Frank Russell serves on the town council and is fondly known as “Mr. Parksley.”
“Our plan for the future is to keep on doing business as usual,” Deborah Russell said. “Frank and I have seen a lot of small businesses come and go, but we have high hopes for the future.”
Richard Lewis lives outside of Parksley now, but he’s from the town and is a big supporter. “I’ve always been a Parksley boy and I love Parksley,” he said. His business, Associated Grain, is just outside the limits. “We are putting in additional grain space and a new grain bin,” he said. Lewis is “starting up a small trucking company and hiring a couple more workers.”
“The big thing is the improvements to the residential areas. Landlords and homeowners are putting back Victorian homes,” Lewis said. “The Lunch Box is open” again. He mentioned how wonderful the veterans memorial is. “The railway museum went through renovation last year. It is infectious when one person” makes improvements. He said the town is “enforcing ordinances and getting things cleaned up. The biggest thing is the library and the Heritage Center. That is going to be a game changer for Parksley.”
The town is the only place on the Eastern Shore where residents can go and still have their gas pumped for them, choose between undertakers, use playground equipment, view a vast array of architecture, and climb aboard a rail car. County Supervisor Paul Muhly of Parksley is hoping to get the now-defunct Eastern Shore Railroad in Cape Charles to donate a locomotive to the railway museum.
Another new-to-the-scene-go-getter is Councilwoman Julie Nash. Described by Lewis as “a firecracker,” Nash is a professor of psychology at the Eastern Shore Community College and a painter. She is opening an art gallery in the former drugstore/bank just in time for the town festival she is organizing, which is set for Saturday, Oct. 6. See story on Page 7.
Nash also formed a new art organization and wants to promote those who are talented but relatively unknown. She is looking for unique works that would not be like those found in other local towns. The idea is for a tourist to be able to make his or her way through the Shore, seeing different things on each stop. Eastern Shore Art Association will be located in the blue building between the seafood market and the Russell’s on Dunne Avenue.
Art classes are already being held in the gallery. Nash’s Facebook page states a mural is being created on the gallery’s back door. Other murals are being planned for around town.
Tim Valentine, the owner of the Club Car Cafe, purchased the former liquor store that is now a Caribbean Market. He hired two local artists to refresh the old Coca-Cola sign that was painted on the brick side of the structure. There is talk that another mural may go on the side of Jaxon’s variety store, and Deborah Russell spoke of one on her building.
“The mural will be a wait and see deal for me. But I am thinking a Victorian bride when it happens,” she said.
“All of this work on the village’s appearance and attractions will make Parksley an even better place to live,” Muhly said.