HARRISONBURG — Dallas Chaplin, the 20-year-old Staunton resident accused of fatally shooting a Harrisonburg man last December, has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and will spend the next 40 years behind bars. The plea came this morning, shortly before day three of his trial was to begin.
Apparently seeking to avoid the possibility of life in prison if convicted, Chaplin took the plea deal negotiated between prosecutors and his defense team.
The plea means the defendant will spend the bulk of his life behind bars and won’t regain his freedom until he is at least 60. The deal also includes a 40-year suspended sentence.
Chaplin shot Ben Graessle, 19, three times outside the victim’s apartment building in The Commons, a residential complex off of Port Republic Road. Graessle and a friend of Chaplin’s had been fighting before the shooting. Prosecutors say Chaplin killed Graessle with three shots from a small-caliber handgun as the victim lay on the ground.
Following Chaplin’s guilty plea, Graessle’s mother, Debbie Songer, said she was pleased with the outcome but moving on is still difficult.
“There’s not going to be closure for a long time,” said Songer. “He was our only son.”
The Daily News-Record will have more on this story in Thursday’s print and online editions.