Ben’s Law Gets Panel OK

Committee To Hear Murder Accessory Bill

Posted: February 20, 2014

HARRISONBURG — “Ben’s Law,” proposed legislation that would make accessory after the fact to murder a felony, cleared another hurdle Wednesday night.

The Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 15-0 to approve the measure. Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who serves on the committee, was among those senators voting in support of the bill.

On Feb. 11, the House of Delegates 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.

In January, about a dozen of Graessle’s family and friends traveled to Richmond to lobby for the bill’s passage with about 6,000 signatures supporting the legislation. Graessle’s mother, Debbie Songer, also traveled to Richmond on Wednesday to address the committee.

Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, filed the bill, and Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, is the chief co-patron.

The legislation would make accessory after the fact to murder a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The crime is now a misdemeanor carrying a maximum of up to a year in jail.

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 to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. It’s unclear when the committee will address the bill.

According to a fiscal impact statement, the legislation would cost the state about $50,000 to incarcerate those convicted of the crime if it is enhanced.

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or pdelea@dnronline.com



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