The long and meandering course of justice finally arrived Tuesday afternoon for the family of third-generation Marine officer George M. Van Orden.
After 4½ years of delays, two trials and a revolving door of attorneys, the day of reckoning finally came for 27-year-old M. , who slammed into Van Orden’s car at 90 mph, fatally injuring him, while fleeing state police on Midlothian Turnpike.
But for a moment during Tuesday’s hearing before the Richmond man received a 30-year prison sentence, it appeared Van Orden’s family might have to wait again. newest attorney, Charles C. Cosby Jr. – the defendant’s eighth lawyer since he was charged in March 2013 – asked for a continuance so he could better serve his client.
But Chesterfield County prosecutor Ken Chitty wasn’t having it.
“There’s no reason to delay this,” Chitty told the judge, noting that has been represented by seven other attorneys and they were granted nine earlier delays.
Chitty also noted that Van Orden’s wife, Marina, who was severely injured in the crash, wrote in her victim impact statement that one of the most stressful things she’s endured has been the repeated court delays.
Chesterfield Circuit Judge T.J. Hauler would not allow another one.
“All of the families need to have some closure to this,” Hauler said from the bench, also recognizing the many members of family in the courtroom.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Hauler imposed a jury’s recommended sentence of 30 years in prison: 20 years for felony murder in the death of Van Orden, 73; five years for hit-and-run driving; three years for eluding police; and two years for possession of controlled drugs.
In June, the jury found guilty on all counts after a four-day trial. ‘s first trial in April 2016 ended in a mistrial.
On Tuesday, Cosby called three witnesses who variously described as a “great father” who helped and cared for others and was respectful to his mother. The crash, Cosby said, was an accident of unintended consequences.
“He does have a good side to him,” Cosby said of , asking the judge to pare down the jury’s recommended punishment to allow him a chance – once he serves his time – to turn his life around.
But Chitty reminded the court that it was who twice sought to be tried by a jury, “knowing full well what the consequences were.”
And Chitty said the choices made “were every bit intentional”: He chose to step on the gas and elude police, he chose to accelerate to 90 mph, he chose to run a red light that triggered the fatal crash, and he chose to jump from his wrecked vehicle and run away.
Chitty also noted that while was incarcerated, he made a series of phone calls to friends and family and, in one of those calls, he admitted to seeing state troopers direct him to pull over at the Powhite Parkway toll plaza at Midlothian Turnpike – where the pursuit originated.
But , in the call, said he decided to flee. He would have gotten away, he said, had he been driving a car instead of a 2002 GMC Yukon XL.
“The facts we have are egregious,” Chitty told the court.
State troopers looking for equipment violations first tried to stop at the toll plaza, after noticing there was no tread on his front tires and the steel cords were pushing through rubber. After one, and then several, troopers called for him to stop, accelerated toward Midlothian Turnpike, according to evidence.
Two troopers jumped into a police cruiser and pursued him. , who has prior convictions of assaulting a police officer and distribution of drugs, ran over curbs and around other vehicles as he fled, sideswiping two vehicles. Heading west, ran a red light at Moorefield Parkway and T-boned Van Orden’s car as he was turning left to head east on Midlothian Turnpike.
Van Orden and his wife had just finished dinner at a nearby Olive Garden.
After impact, jumped from his SUV and tried to carjack another driver before fleeing into nearby woods. A short time later, Chesterfield police officers who responded spotted in the woods and, as they took him into custody, he was chewing on a plastic bag containing a white substance. A sample retrieved by police tested positive for oxycodone.
Van Orden, who suffered blunt force trauma to his chest, died the next day at VCU Medical Center. His wife suffered a cracked shoulder blade and sternum, shattered ankle and bleeding on her brain.
Van Orden, who served two tours in Vietnam, had served 26 years in the corps before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who retired as a brigadier general, and his grandfather, who retired as a colonel.
“He was Marine blood, and he passed on Marine blood to me,” Van Orden’s son, George K. Van Orden, told The Times-Dispatch four years ago.
After was sentenced Tuesday and his family left the courtroom, the judge gave a special nod to Van Orden’s family in the audience.
“I don’t know how you’ve held up as well as you have,” Hauler told Van Orden’s wife and two daughters, offering his condolences.
“He was a hell of a Marine,” the judge added.
And in a tribute to Van Orden and his family, the judge intoned the corps’ famous motto: “Semper fi!”