Lancaster’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Jan Smith will not be removed as the prosecutor in the John “Rand” Hooper case, Judge Herbert Hewitt ruled in King George’s Circuit Court last Tuesday.
Hooper is facing felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and failure to render aid during an August 2017 boating incident that resulted in the death of Graham McCormick. According to details in the civil lawsuit filed by the deceased’s family, Hooper was driving a boat while intoxicated, crashed into a bulkhead and McCormick was thrown overboard. Hooper left McCormick, who then drowned.
Hooper and his parents, who were also named in the lawsuit, settled for $4 million.
Last month, McCormick’s parents, Sallie Graham and J. Burke McCormick petitioned the court to have Smith disqualified as the prosecutor in the criminal case. They argued the Commonwealth’s Attorney was unfit to proceed for numerous reasons, including the appearance of impropriety, incompetence, lack of partiality and improper communications with the court.
According to McCormick’s affidavit, Smith told the family he had gone over the case with the judge and the judge had some doubts about whether the Commonwealth could meet its burden of proof on the manslaughter charge. “Mr. Smith left me with the distinct impression that I should not object to the plea,” he wrote.
When Hooper appeared in court in June, Judge McKenney called attention to a letter from Benjamin Woodson, owner of the property where the accident occurred and McCormick’s body was found. He reiterated the claim that Smith said he pre-arranged the outcome with the judge. “I was shocked when the Commonwealth’s Attorney told me that [Judge Michael McKenney] and he had determined there wasn’t enough relevant information to convict Rand Hooper in a jury trial, and therefore, a plea agreement was reached,” Woodson wrote.
In open court, McKenney denied that the conversation with Smith occurred, noting that such a conversation would have been improper and recused himself from the case to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
That left the McCormick family believing that Smith misled them and coerced them into taking a plea deal. And that was truly the crux of their push for Smith’s removal, said their attorney, Gregory Habeeb of the Gentry Locke law firm.
For the full article, pick up the latest Northumberland Echo 8/7/19