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What happened the day Graham McCormick died? Answers may come during Rand Hooper's trial.

Posted at 12:27 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 09:34:21-05

NORFOLK, Va. — For more than four years, Mackie Peebles has wondered what exactly happened the day his friend, Graham McCormick, died on the Rappahannock River in Lancaster County, Virginia.

"Everybody wants to know what really happened," Peebles said.

This week, he may finally find out.

The trial of Rand Hooper is set to begin on Tuesday.

Investigators said Hooper was piloting a boat while drunk back in August 2017, when it crashed into a bulkhead throwing his passenger, McCormick, overboard.

They said Hooper then left the scene without trying to find and help his friend.

Graham McCormick and Rand Hooper
Graham McCormick and Rand Hooper

"We are all looking forward to hearing the facts in the trial," Peebles said.

The case has involved many twists and turns, including a plea deal thrown out by a judge, a prosecutor who had his law license suspended, another prosecutor who was removed from the case, new more serious charges, and COVID-19 delays.

"It seems like it could be a Netflix series," Peebles said.

There has also been a change of venue with the trial moving from Lancaster County, where Graham died, to Norfolk.

"With it being in Norfolk, the potential jurors are not as susceptible to news coverage and they get a whole different news cycle down there, and it's not local so the jurors are much less likely to be predisposed to some outcome so the trial will be much more fair being in a place like Norfolk," CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said.

Stone said the prosecution will need to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Hooper piloted the boat, crashed it, and did not try to retrieve his friend.

"They have to show there is a high degree of negligence, and that the negligence caused the death in this situation," Stone said.

He said the defense will try to poke holes in the prosecution's case and attempt to make the jury sympathetic to Hooper.

Rand Hooper
Rand Hooper outside of court in Lancaster County.

If they decide to put Hooper on the stand, the prosecutor can then bring up his criminal history: including past DUIs and the time he shot a friend in Richmond's Fan district while drunk.

Otherwise, Stone said Hooper's record will not be admissible.

"If a jury gets the sense a defendant is not telling the truth that could have greater repercussions than simply not taking the stand at all," Stone said.

Hooper's attorney, Craig Cooley, has not responded to requests for a pre-trial interview.

Stone said Hooper faces 40 years or more behind bars.

Mack Peebles just hopes his friend's family can finally get some peace.

"They are due that closure," Peebles said.

The four-day trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday morning.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

Watch for Problem Solvers Investigations Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. Click here for more of our investigations or to submit a tip to the Problem Solvers.

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