by Audrey Thomasson
LANCASTER—Henry Respess Hall, 52, accused in the 1988 fatal stabbing and rape of a 68-year-old widow, accepted a plea deal March 31 in Lancaster County Circuit Court.
Hall, of Middlesex County, pleaded guilty to murder and rape in the 29-year-old cold case while Commonwealth’s Attorney Jan Smith set aside additional charges of breaking and entering, robbery and abduction.
Sentencing was set for July 14, after Judge R. Michael McKenney ordered a required sexual mental evaluation and sentencing guideline report on the defendant.
If accepted by the judge, Hall would get 45 years, with 15 suspended resulting in an active sentence of 30 years. Since punishment comes under 1988 laws, Hall could apply for parole in 15 years.
According to Judge McKenney, the maximum sentence in 1988 for murder was 40 years with a fine of $100,000, while rape carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Hall is accused of killing Virginia Mae Hall in her Blackstump Road home on the evening of April 11, 1988. The defendant is not related to the victim.
Prior to the murder, Hall had done work on the victim’s home as an employee of a local construction company. According to his confession to Lancaster Sheriff ’s chief detective Lt. Tim Self, Hall was armed with a knife when he forced his way into the residence with the intent to rob and rape the victim.
“The motive for murder was that she could identify him,” said Smith. “He knocked her to the bedroom floor and started choking her by putting his foot to her throat until she went unconscious. He then started kicking her in the head so she would be brain dead. He could not take a chance so he buried his knife into her heart. On his way home…he threw the knife off the Rappahannock River bridge.”
According to the medical examiner’s report, the victim died from the stab wound.
An active sentence of 30 years was acceptable to the family, the victim’s son.
“He’ll be harmless at 82 years old. Most of us won’t be around anymore by then,” said Harry Hall after the hearing.
Virginia Hall’s granddaughter, Debbie Hall Downs, was relieved. “We have a little bit of closure. No one gave up.”
It took 10 years of investigation for Lt. Self to find closure for the family. The key to identifying Henry Hall as the killer was new techniques in forensic science that connected him through familial DNA, said Self.
“It’s unlikely he’ll get parole,” said Self.