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Rand Hooper trial enters second day

Rand Hooper
Posted at 8:54 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 21:08:47-05

NORFOLK, Va. -- Twenty-five days after initially telling detectives that he and his friend Graham McCormick went to bed after playing cards on the dock, Rand Hooper showed up at the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office with two attorneys and told detectives he now remembered a late-night boat crash that resulted in his friend's death, but he did not remember who was driving the boat.

That's according to testimony from Lieutenant Timothy Self, the lead investigator with the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office.

Hooper told detectives that day his memory was slowly coming back to him, and, according to Self, one of his lawyers said he had "amnesia".

The meeting occurred on September 5, 2017.

On August 11, 2017, McCormick's body was found floating in the Rappahannock River around 10 a.m. by a man who lived nearby.

According to investigators, when they showed up to Hooper's parent's house that day 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".

He also told Smithart the group took out his parents' smaller boat with a blue canopy for the pleasure cruise earlier in the day. Smith checked out that boat but did not find any damage.

Prosecutors showed Ring camera video of Hooper from the 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 Detective 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 second, larger boat on the property was damaged.

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. Detectives then seized the boat as part of their investigation on August 16.

Chip Woodson, who owns the property where McCormick's body was found, testified that he noticed damage to his dock when a conservation officer asked him three days later about the damage he had found there.

Conservation Officer Kenneth Williams with the Department of Wildlife Resources then showed the jury the damage to Woodson's bulkhead and dock through pictures he had taken during the investigation.

Forensic Science Supervisor Brenda Christy testified she found a fragment match between the damaged boat and the crash scene.

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.

Doctor 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.

Commonwealth's Attorney Matt Kite introduced a motion at the beginning of the day where he requested to be able to tell the jury about Hooper's prior DUIs.

The judge denied the request and said he would be "unduly prejudicial."

Kite said he had one more witness to call on Thursday.