Second defendant sentenced to 14 years in fatal 2017 Franklin County shooting

Second defendant sentenced to 14 years in fatal 2017 Franklin County shooting

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John Isaiah Hodges, the second defendant convicted in the fatal 2017 shotgun ambush of a Franklin County teenager, on Thursday was ordered to serve 14 years in prison.

In April, a jury found Hodges guilty of being an accessory to four major felonies related to the death of 18-year-old Allyn Gray Riddle — capital murder, robbery, breaking and entering and grand larceny of firearms — and Hodges had faced punishments ranging from 45 years in prison up to three life terms behind bars.

But after two hours of post-trial deliberations, jurors said they were simply unwilling to sentence Hodges, citing what the prosecutor called “an inability to tender ... a recommended punishment within the range set forth in the instructions.” As stipulated by Virginia code, that task fell to Judge Clyde Perdue.

It was a twist that proved something of a boon for Hodges, 21, on several fronts.

Unlike juries, judges are allowed to suspend time against a defendant or run sentences concurrently.

Perdue also was required to consider state sentencing guidelines — and crucially, in Virginia, no guidelines are applied to offenses related to capital murder, which left Hodges’ total recommendation ranging from about eight to 13 years.

On Thursday, Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney A.J. Dudley took issue with that point and submitted hypothetical guidelines that Hodges would have faced in cases of first- and second-degree murder.

Ultimately, Perdue sentenced Hodges to a total of 100 years and suspended all but 14. Hodges has already served about two and a half years, which will be credited against his punishment.

“I try to be fair. And I may not be, but I just think that’s appropriate in this case,” Perdue told the crowded gallery.

Hodges’ co-defendant, Aaron Seth Dean, pleaded guilty in late 2018 to a string of charges, including Riddle’s capital murder, and is now serving three life terms plus 48 years in prison.

Thursday’s hearing closed a late chapter of a disturbing and confounding Franklin County tragedy.

Dean and Hodges, friends since at least as far back as middle school, have said that together they harbored dreams of setting off on some kind of adventures, “missions” to places like Iraq or Pakistan, possibly serving up vigilante justice to terrorists and drug dealers. They didn’t have the money or the training or the language skills for such endeavors, but they knew that Dean’s friend Allyn Riddle had access to firearms, mostly hunting rifles.

On Aug. 18, 2017, Dean and Hodges drove to Riddle’s home in Rocky Mount. They spent some time with him as he got ready to go work an evening shift at FedEx. At some point, Dean got a sawed-off shotgun from his car, went back into Riddle’s house and killed him. They then drove off in Dean’s Toyota Camry. A search warrant later showed they were carrying a half-dozen stolen long guns, including an M1 Carbine and a Winchester 30-30.

Less than 24 hours after Riddle’s killing, Hodges went to police and gave a lengthy statement about what had happened. Soon after, Dean was arrested as well.

A key issue during Hodges’ trial was exactly how much he knew about Dean’s plan to kill Riddle, and whether he had assisted Dean.

Defense attorney Patrick Kenney called Dean as a witness during the trial. He testified that while he had told Hodges about “a possible mission,” he had not told Hodges of his plans to commit murder or robbery.

Dean said in court he did not have “a satisfactory answer” for the motivations behind his crimes.

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