Henrico Jail East escapee sentenced to 15-year prison term
A New Kent man who escaped from Henrico Jail East received a 15-year prison sentence as part of afternoon proceedings in New Kent Circuit Court.
Howard Allen Groffel, 52, received formal sentencing after being convicted on 15 charges during a Dec. 21, 2017 trial. During that trial, proceedings revealed that after being transported to Henrico Jail East and held on charges, Groffel walked down a corridor to the magistrate’s office waiting area. The defendant hit a buzzer and was granted access into the office area. The defendant pressed another button and access was gained to the main lobby. From there, Groffel exited the unsecured front door.
A manhunt ensued with officers from New Kent, Henrico, Virginia State Police, and special agencies looking for Groffel. After receiving a tip that the defendant was seen near Angle View Lane, authorities tracked down the Groffel to a wooded area. After ordering the defendant to the ground, a search of the defendant uncovered a handgun strapped to his ankle. Other items discovered included medicine, candy, credit cards, and a wallet belonging to Samuel Howard. Testimony by Henry Green Jr., a neighbor of Groffel, revealed the defendant had weapons and ammunition in his home, something he is prohibited to have because of his status as a convicted felon.
During sentencing, defense attorney Ivan Fehrenbach argued that his client had a horrible life growing up and it transpired into this one event.
“Mr. Groffel didn’t try to hurt anybody by his actions,” the defense attorney said, pointing to Groffel’s nature of asking for a ride back to New Kent Courthouse to retrieve his vehicle after his escape. “Unfortunately, this was a crime of opportunity that was driven by emotional state.”
Fehrenbach continued, arguing that his client’s record consisted of mainly misdemeanors. But Commonwealth’s Attorney Linwood Gregory pointed out a manslaughter conviction from the early 1980 along with some inappropriate behavior in recent misdemeanor cases made Groffel a danger to society.
“He’s a dangerous man,” Gregory said, pointing to the five protective orders issued against the defendant. “He told a deputy in a car while being transported back to jail that he should have shot and killed them and then he would have killed himself.”
Judge B. Elliott Bondurant spent 10 minutes mulling over the sentencing before announcing it.
For escaping prison, Bondurant rendered a five-year term with three years suspended (two to serve) on Groffel. The defendant received a 20-year sentence with 18 years suspended on the grand larceny charge. He will also serve a pair of two-year mandatory sentences (four years total) for possessing a firearm by a non-violent felon, as well as two years for possessing ammunition after being convicted of a felony. Groffel will serve all 12 months on each of his five charges for possessing a firearm while under a protective order. Twenty years on each of the four credit card larceny charges were suspended, as well as 12 months on the misdemeanor charge of entering a vehicle. In total, Groffel will serve 10 years, 60 months (or 15 years) in time.
In an unrelated case, a man who was employed in New Kent’s Treasurer’s Office accepted the terms of a plea agreement.
Andrew James Dorish Jr., 33, of the 5200 block of Cold Harbor Road, Mechanicsville, entered not guilty pleas to one count of felony embezzlement and four counts of misdemeanor embezzlement, but stipulated the evidence would be enough to convict him of the crime.
In a summary of evidence, on Oct. 13, 2016, a New Kent citizen came and paid her taxes at the treasurer’s office in the amount of $1,189.54. On Feb. 10, 2017, that same citizen received a voicemail that said she had delinquent taxes. When she was notified by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the victim returned to the office and paid the taxes again but told Dorish, who handled the original transaction, that she had paid them once before.
After an audit was conducted, money came up missing and an investigation was launched. Evidence revealed that Dorish was voiding transactions and pocketing the funds. Along with the above-mentioned figure, the defendant pocketed penalty fees and interest, leading to the four misdemeanor charges. In total, 28 suspicious transactions were detected. When interviewed by authorities, Dorish admitted in writing that he took the money to pay for outstanding medical bills and his car payment.
Under the plea agreement, no formal finding has been rendered as a presentence report is being prepared. Sentencing guidelines recommend probation for Dorish, but he must pay restitution in the total amount of $9,400.57. Formal sentencing is scheduled for May 14.