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Judge rejects ‘inappropriate’ deal for boater charged with leaving friend to die in Virginia river

Posted at 11:26 AM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 16:11:06-05

LANCASTER COUNTY, Va. -- To a chorus of "yes, yes, yes,” Judge Herbert Hewitt described the actions of Rand Hooper as coming from a “cold and malignant heart” before he rejected an “inappropriate” plea deal in the August 2017 death of Hooper's friend Graham McCormick.

McCormick died in a Rappahannock River boat crash. An inebriated Hooper, according to investigators, crashed the boat into a bulkhead.

McCormick fell overboard during the crash and investigators said Hooper made no effort to find his friend.

Hooper previously entered a guilty plea to lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter and failure to render aid in exchange for a one year prison term.

Rand Hooper

But in court Thursday, the judge said the plea agreement was “inappropriate” and that the sentence recommended was “inappropriate” for the crime.

The judge also said that it was “overwhelming to the court” that Hooper made no effort to find his friend who went overboard and Hooper’s actions come from “a cold and malignant heart.”

The judge also referenced Hooper’s two previous DUI convictions and pointed out this current charge resulted in someone’s death.

The judge said because the plea deal was rejected, Hooper had the right to withdraw his guilty plea and request a new judge.

Hooper announced in court he wanted to do both.

When this announcement was made in court, McCormick's family members became emotional, some shedding tears. They have wanted to see this case go to trial. Thursday's ruling meant that remained a possibility.

Graham McCormick

Hooper left court through a back door, avoiding questions from reporters.

The case returns to court on January 24.

Thursday's ruling is the latest chapter in the case which seemingly cost the county's top prosecutor his job.

In 2015, Jan Smith became Lancaster's Commonwealth's Attorney winning 52 percent of the vote. Four years later, he lost that job receiving just 15 percent of of the vote in the November 2019 election.

Smith's handling of the alcohol-fueled boat may have been the catalyst to his defeat.

Smith offered Hooper the plea agreement that has since been ruled “inappropriate” for the crime.

Rand Hooper

Rand Hooper

McCormick's family opposed the deal and said it was too lenient. They even tried to get Smith removed from the case.

"He was supposed to be helping us, we trusted him, we put our faith in him for years, two years, and he took total advantage of us and tried to silence us when we wanted to voice dissent," Gordon McCormick, Graham McCormick's brother, said.

This is a developing story.