Lawmakers To Consider ‘Ben’s Bill’ In GA

Delegates File Murder Accessory Legislation

Posted: January 11, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Sidekicks who come along in the aftermath of the most violent crime possible may face more time behind bars in the future.

As expected, Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, has filed legislation that increases the penalty against people who assist murder suspects following the deadly act. Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, is the chief co-patron.

The bill would make accessory after the fact to murder a Class 6 felony, if the murder is punishable by death or life in prison.

A Class 6 felony could lead to a prison sentence of up to five years. Current law says accessory after the fact is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

“If you can drive a car or participate in disposing of a victim, that should be a felony act and should be taken as seriously as the planning of the crime in Virginia law,” said Cline, a Harrisonburg attorney and former assistant in the Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. “My heart goes out to the families who have to endure these types of cases when Virginia law does not currently treat these issues with enough severity.”

Accessory to murder, such as helping to plan it out, is already a felony.

Cline proposed the legislation, known as ‘Ben’s Bill’, in response to the murder of Ben Graessle, 19, in Harrisonburg in December 2012.

The shooter, Dallas Chaplin, 20, of Staunton, was sentenced to 80 years in prison, with 40 years suspended. The getaway driver, Givi Dudunia, 20, also of Staunton, was sentenced to three years in jail, with one year suspended.

Dudunia faced only misdemeanor charges in the case, including accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. Graessle’s friends and family were upset that a harsher sentence couldn’t be handed down for his role in the slaying.

The bill has been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee. A subcommittee that Cline sits on will hold a hearing on the measure in the next two or three weeks, he said.

Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst, who supports the bill, and Graessle’s family may participate in that hearing, Cline said.

“We’ll make sure Ben’s story is told,” he said.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com



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