By Linda Cicoira — A former Nandua High School substitute teacher, who was initially charged with two felony counts of keeping firearms in his car while he was working, pleaded guilty last week in Accomack Circuit Court to misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon.
Judge W. Revell Lewis III sentenced Phillip Gordon Stewart, 64, to a 10-day suspended jail sentence. Steward was fined $250. The reduced charge was part of a plea-bargaining agreement with Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan.
Stewart lived on Nock’s Landing Road, in Atlantic, when it was reported to the county sheriff’s office that he kept a concealed weapon in his vehicle at the school. Soon after the report was made, Deputy Jessica Young, the school’s resource officer, spoke to Stewart outside Nandua High’s gym. Stewart admitted he had a gun in his car and consented to a search of the vehicle.
Beneath some clothes in his trunk, a shotgun was found, the deputy testified at a preliminary hearing. A handgun was under a towel in the back seat. Defense lawyer Thomas Northam argued at the hearing that an unloaded firearm can be kept in a closed container. He said the trunk and backseat could both be considered containers. “Both were locked,” he added. “There were no rounds in either chamber. When you pull the trigger you want it to go bang,” the defense lawyer continued. “None of these were out in the open and they were locked up.”
Morgan said, “That weapon is loaded,” if there is ammo in the gun. Morgan also said he did not consider the trunk and backseat as being containers.
According to court records, Stewart told Young, “He put the firearms in (his) car for safekeeping from his ex. He did not realize he could not bring (a gun) on school property.” Stewart was held in Accomack Jail for about two days without bond due “safety concerns” and “presumption” — a rule of law that allows a court to assume a fact is true until it is rebutted by the greater weight of the evidence against it.
At press time Thursday, Morgan had not returned a reporter’s query, which was made on Monday, about the outcome of the case.