Investigator’s credibility in question in road rage shooting case

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Jonathan Ray McDonald, of Spotsylvania, Va.(Rappahannock Regional Jail)
Jonathan Ray McDonald, of Spotsylvania, Va.(Rappahannock Regional Jail)

The credibility of a York County sheriff’s office investigator has come into question in the case of a man accused of shooting into a car and injuring two people.

The lead investigator in what police say was a road rage shooting is no longer employed with the sheriff’s office due to “issues with her credibility,” defense attorney Patricia Nagel said during a motions hearing in the York-Poquoson Circuit Court Thursday morning.

Nagel did not specify what the credibility issues were with the investigator, named Deborah Wenzel, but York-Poquoson Sheriff’s office spokesman Lt. Dennis Ivey confirmed Wenzel resigned from her position Jan. 3.

Ivey said he could not comment further because it is a personnel issue.

The defendant, Jonathan McDonald, 29, is accused of shooting a woman in the head and another man in the face, near his eyebrow, beside the Mooretown Road overpass on Route 199 on June 4.

The woman, who had been driving, sustained life-threatening injuries and was airlifted to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, police said. Both the woman and man survived the encounter.

Nagel told Circuit Court Judge Richard Rizk that Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jacob Lambert faxed her information Wednesday around 4 p.m. to let her know the lead investigator in the case had been terminated from employment with the sheriff’s office.

In response to the news about the investigator, Nagel filed a motion around 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning to request access to the investigator’s personnel fire at the sheriff’s office. With the investigator’s credibility at stake, Nagel said there may be information in the personnel file that could be pertinent to the McDonald case.

“All evidence in the case flowed through her,” Nagel said. “I want to know when she was terminated.”

Rizk agreed to release any parts of the file to the defense, as long as it pertained to the McDonald case. He said he will review the file in its entirety, and will release any information that could affect the McDonald case to Nagel on McDonald’s next scheduled court date, Feb. 28.

A captain with the sheriff’s office, who was present in court Thursday, told prosecutors the sheriff’s office would likely be able to deliver the file to the court within a week.

“I think this is a matter of urgency,” Nagel said of obtaining the personnel file.

Questions of the investigator’s credibility arose during a hearing in which Rizk addressed five other motions made by Nagel Jan. 17. Rizk denied most of Nagel’s motions, but agreed she could have access to some information she was requesting.

Nagel’s five motions addressed obtaining the alleged victim’s medical records, what witnesses could testify about and personal information for some witnesses, so she could retrieve any prior criminal histories.

During the hearing, McDonald, wearing an orange jumpsuit, sat next to Nagel, while his wife, mother, mother in-law and father in-law sat together on a courtroom bench.

“My question is, do they want the truth, or just a conviction?” McDonald’s mother in-law, Maureen Tuuri said after the motions were denied.

During the hearing, Rizk denied the first motion, which asked the court to dismiss two charges of aggravated malicious wounding against McDonald.

Although Nagel argued the charges cannot be supported without expert testimony from doctors, Rizk said the “case law is very clear” that experts are not essential to support aggravated malicious wounding.

Another defense motion sought to limit what non-expert witnesses in the case can testify to, including diagnosis, cause treatment or prognosis or injuries. Nagel argued that any testimony beyond what the witnesses or victims are presently feeling would be considered heresay because they were told the information by someone else, such as a doctor.

Rizk denied the second motion as well, saying that the defense can object to witness testimony during the trial.

A third defense motion asks the court to order the Commonwealth’s Attorney to disclose any case information regarding a North Carolina case involving witnesses that occurred two weeks prior to the alleged shooting.

The prosecution does not have the entire case file, and any information from that case had been relayed to prosecutors over the phone from the attorney’s office in North Carolina, Lambert said.

“The court is not compelled to make the Commonwealth’s Attorney retrieve the case file,” Rizk said.

Rizk requested Lambert provide Nagel with contact information for the North Carolina prosecutor’s office, so she can retrieve case details herself.

The fourth motion filed by Nagel requested the Commonwealth Attorney produce the victims’ medical records and give them to the defense. Nagel argued that the medical records are important to support any victims’ claims about their injuries.

“It would be grossly handicapping to ask Mr. McDonald to come to trial without mounting a full defense,” Nagel said.

Lambert, however, said prosecutors do not, and have not, been in possession of any victim medical records.

Rizk also denied the medical records motion, because he cannot order the prosecution to provide the defense with records they are not in possession of. Rizk told Nagel the defense could subpoena the records from the hospital, however.

The final motion, which requested Nagel be provided with identifying information for witnesses so she could look up any past criminal histories, was granted.

After the judge ruled on the motions, Nagel said she planned to prepare an extraordinary writ — a means to allow a court to review an issue that could not be adequately addressed through the typical appeals process — about the denied motion for obtaining medical records, and submit it to the Virginia Supreme Court.

McDonald is scheduled to appear again in court Feb. 28 at 9 a.m. for a status check.

Nagel declined to comment on the case.

WYDaily archives were used in this story.

Correction: This article originally stated the extraordinary writ would be submitted to the Virginia Court of Appeals. That was an error, it will be submitted to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Fearing can be reached at 207-975-5459.