by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
In a surprising move, Lancaster County Circuit Court Judge R. Michael McKenney recused himself Wednesday morning from hearing the trial of John Randolph “Rand” Hooper of Richmond.
Hooper is charged with two felonies including involuntary manslaughter while operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The charges stem from a boating accident in August 2017 which resulted in the death of 31-year-old Graham McCormick of Georgia. McCormick had been visiting with Hooper and other friends at the Irvington estate of Hooper’s parents, Gary and Lucy Hooper. His body was found on Carter Creek and it was later determined by the state medical examiner he had died as a result of a boating accident.
There were more than 80 people present for Wednesday’s trial in Lancaster County Circuit Court. Several were expected to deliver emotional testimonies despite the rumor that a plea agreement had been reached between Lancaster Commonwealth’s Attorney Jan Smith and Hooper’s attorneys.
Judge McKenney, who arrived 10 minutes late to the proceedings, delivered his own emotionally-charged opening statement.
After reviewing written statements in the case, Judge McKenney said he kept coming back to one written by Benjamin Woodson of Weems. Woodson referenced a conversation he had had with Smith and understood the Commonwealth’s Attorney and [Judge McKenney] had determined there was not enough evidence to convict Hooper and to reach a plea agreement.
Judge McKenney calmly but adamantly denied he encouraged Smith to reach a plea agreement and said he had not seen nor did he know the evidence in the case.
“The idea I was engaged in or made a decision about the evidence troubles me,” he said.
Judge McKenney said his integrity and his reputation had been called into play and after much deliberation on the matter and after consulting numerous other judges, he chose to “recuse [himself] by order of disqualification.”
He recommended the presiding judge of Virginia’s 15th Judicial Circuit Court, the Hon. Herbert M. Hewitt, hear the case.
Hooper will appear in Lancaster County Circuit Court on Friday, July 12, to have a new trial date set.