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Richmond boater found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, failure to stop at scene of accident

Posted at 12:33 PM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 23:16:12-05

NORFOLK, Va. -- A jury found Rand Hooper guilty of involuntary manslaughter and failure to stop at the scene of an accident.

He faces up to 15 years behind bars.

Hooper's bond was revoked by a judge and he was taken away in handcuffs on Thursday night following the verdict.

This was after Judge Charles Poston struck down a felony murder charge against his Hooper earlier on Thursday. The charge, which carried a maximum sentence of 40 years, was one of three charges Hooper's attorney Craig Cooley asked the judge to strike during day three of Hooper's criminal trial in Norfolk, Virginia.

Investigators said Hooper was drunkenly piloting a boat in Lancaster County, Virginia on August 11, 2017, when it crashed into a bulkhead throwing his passenger and friend Graham McCormick overboard. Hooper, they said, then left the scene without trying to help his friend.

McCormick's body was found floating in the Rappahannock River later that day.

Cooley argued all charges against Hooper should be dropped on the basis that, in his opinion, the Commonwealth had not offered "one iota" of evidence as to who was operating the boat when it crashed.

Cooley also argued that the Commonwealth had not established Hooper's actions involved malice, which he argued must "rise far beyond leaving the scene."

Judge Poston denied Cooley's motions to strike the aggravated manslaughter and hit and run charges, but he agreed that there was "insufficient evidence to establish malice" so he struck down the felony murder charge.

Outside the courtroom when asked what he thought about the judge's decision, Cooley said he was "hoping for it all to go away."

Rand Hooper's mother smiled politely when asked for her thoughts on the felony murder charge being struck, but she did not comment.

"The evidence regarding who was driving the boat is critical since the statute charged requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the driver and that he caused a death as a result of his negligence," CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said. "If the prosecution can prove that the defendant’s negligence was so gross, wanton, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life then the potential penalty increase from a 10-year maximum to a 20-year maximum, one year of which is mandatory. Consequently, the two most important issues for the jury to decide pertain to whether the defendant was operating the boat and if so, what was his level of negligence."

Once the trial resumes Thursday afternoon, each side will make closing arguments and give the case to the jury to deliberate.

"If the jury finds [Hooper] was operating the boat but also finds that there’s not enough evidence to establish the high level of negligence, then he could be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter as opposed to aggravated involuntary manslaughter," Stone added. "In that case, he could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison with no mandatory sentence to serve."

Hooper faces a maximum of 15 years behind bars for the two remaining charges.

"He never came home"

Hooper's trial comes more than four years after he showed up at the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office with two attorneys and told detectives he remembered a late-night boat crash that resulted in his friend's death, but he did not remember who was driving the boat.

During the September 5, 2017, meeting, Hooper told detectives his memory was slowly coming back to him, and, according to Lancaster County Sheriff's Lt. Timothy Self, one of his lawyers said he had "amnesia."

According to investigators, when they showed up to Hooper's parents' house on August 11 to investigate what happened, Hooper told them he went on a pleasure cruise with McCormick and three others in the late afternoon, then out for dinner, and finally ended up on the dock with McCormick and another man where they played cards and drank.

Detective Johnny Smithart said Hooper told him that day "all the men went upstairs to bed."

But prosecutors showed Ring camera video of Hooper from that same morning his friend was discovered missing.

In the video, Hooper can be heard saying "I am looking for my friend Graham McCormick. He never came home last night."

Deputy Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Tiffany Webb highlighted that Hooper later would tell Det. Smithart a different story: that his friend had gone to bed the night before after they were all on the dock.

Winston Blair and Ralph Daniel, who were also staying at the Hooper home that night, said Hooper speculated to them that morning that McCormick had gone to the dock to call his girlfriend and potentially fallen off.

Blair also testified that she explicitly asked Hooper that day if he had gone back out on the boat with McCormick the night before and he said no.

Three days after McCormick's body was found, investigators returned to the Hooper home and found a large, damaged boat on the property.

Detectives found heavy damage on the rear of that boat, a Boston whaler, according to Self.

"One side of the prop was damaged so bad it was like a razor," Self said.

Hooper had not mentioned to investigators that he had used that boat, rather an undamaged smaller boat with a blue canopy.

Detectives seized the damaged boat as part of their investigation. More than two weeks after investigators seized the boat, Hooper sat down with detectives and said he remembered a crash.

Lieutenant Self said Hooper told him he had a lot to drink that night, that he was on the boat with McCormick, but he could not remember who was driving.

Hooper said he remembered an impact so hard it threw him to the floor and he reached up to put the boat into neutral, turned on the lights, called for McCormick, looked for him, figured he was a good swimmer and could get to shore, got his bearings straight to the Tides Inn and then he didn't remember anything after that, according to Self.

Dr. Jennifer Bowers, assistant chief medical examiner, testified that McCormick's body had a blood alcohol content of .186, had blunt force trauma on the back of his head, but died from drowning.

She said he should have been able to go to the hospital and walk out with the blunt force injuries and it was the drowning that killed him. McCormick's sister started sobbing in her father's arms when she heard that testimony.

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