HARRISONBURG — “Ben’s Law,” a bill that would make accessory after the fact to murder a felony, easily cleared the House of Delegates on Tuesday.
The House voted 96-2 to approve the measure crafted in honor of Ben Graessle, a 2011 Spotswood High School graduate who was murdered in Harrisonburg in 2012.
“It’s overwhelming how many voted for it,” said Debbie Songer, Graessle’s mother. “It’s fantastic. I hope it helps in other cases so that they don’t have to face what we had to.”
Late last month, Songer and about a dozen supporters traveled to Richmond to lobby for the bill’s passage. She presented lawmakers with nearly 6,000 signatures in support of the legislation.
Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, filed the bill, and Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, is the chief co-patron. Dels. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, and Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, voted against the bill.
The legislation would make accessory after the fact to murder a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Today, the crime is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum of up to a year in jail.
“It’s an important bill to address a loophole in the code for these types of egregious actions,” said Cline, following the House vote. “We need to act swiftly so it doesn’t happen in the future.”
Graessle, 19, was shot to death outside his Harrisonburg apartment in December 2012.
The shooter, Dallas Chaplin, 20, of Staunton, was sentenced to 80 years in prison with 40 years suspended.
But Givi Dudunia, 21, also of Staunton, who drove Chaplin away from the scene of the shooting, was sentenced to three years in jail with one year suspended. Dudunia faced only misdemeanor charges in the case.
The bill now goes before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. If it clears the committee, the full Senate will then vote on it.
If required, supporters will travel to Richmond again to push for the bill’s passage in the Senate, Songer said
“So many people helped to get this pushed through,” she said. “It’s just incredible.”
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org