Update: Roach found guilty in shooting spree

Update: Roach found guilty in shooting spree

By Heather Michon, correspondent

Residents of Hardware Hills Circle in Scottsville were so accustomed to Joe Roach’s noisy rages that when he began blowing up during the late afternoon of April 29, 2017, neighbors barely reacted.

“Don’t pay any attention to it,” Michael Townsend recalled telling his grandson when the boy told him that Roach was “acting up” again.

How that day switched from the status quo to a near-fatal shooting spree ending in a seven-hour standoff with law enforcement was the subject of a day-long bench trial in Fluvanna Circuit Court on Friday (July 27).

Townsend, who had lived next door to Roach for about 20 years and was a frequent target of his ire, testified that the incident began as he was standing in front of his house talking with Kimberly Clements.

Clements had just walked from her home across the street with her 6-year-old son, Caleb, to ask Townsend to keep an eye on Roach, whose ongoing yelling was making her increasingly nervous.

“All of a sudden,” Townsend said, “Joe started shooting at us.”

Townsend said that Clements took cover behind a car in the Townsend carport as Roach continued to fire with a hunting rifle from his side porch just a few yards away, yelling “I’m going to kill you, white boy!”

Realizing her older son was left alone, Clements asked Townsend to help her get home. Using their bodies as shields for Caleb, they made their way across the street while Roach continued to scream obscenities at them.

As she entered her home, Clements testified that she heard a loud bang, as if a shot had hit the house or fence. She and her sons hid in a bathroom for a time before finally making their way to her car and driving away.

Townsend returned to his house as the gunfire continued.

His wife, Judy Townsend, testified that she was standing inside the house when a bullet penetrated the wall and flew above her head. The shot blew the antlers off a trophy deer mounted on the living room wall.

Michael Townsend went to his gun safe and retrieved a shotgun. Standing on his deck, he fired two shots in the air, yelling, “Joe, you’d better stop!”

Asked by Roach’s attorney, James Reid, why he would expose himself to return fire, Townsend said, “If I didn’t stay there and let him continue until the law got there,” nothing would change. Roach had fired his gun before, police had come before, and nothing had been done, he said. “I stood my ground.”

Judy Townsend, unable to reach 911 in her panic, instinctively called her daughter, Sarah Williams. Williams called the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office and headed to the family home.

Williams recounted shuttling between her father, still standing on the deck, and her terrified mother inside the house while Roach continued to shoot. She was standing at the door to the deck when she heard another shot and suddenly felt a burning sensation on her face near her eye. Blood began to run down her cheek.

“Dad, he hit me!” she recalled crying out.

Later evacuated by law enforcement, Williams refused to go to the hospital. “I’ve always been the caretaker for my mom and dad,” she said, crying softly. “And I wasn’t going to leave until I knew they were okay.”

Asked to guess how many shots Roach fired, each witness estimated between 10 to 15 shots. Capt. David Wells later testified he recovered eight spent shell casings and one live round on Roach’s side porch and one spent casing on the front porch, and noted other casings may have gone undiscovered in the yard.

Wells also recovered two hunting rifles from the Roach home: one in a case in the attic, another downstairs.

Sgt. Aaron Hurd noted bullet holes and perforations from bullet fragments in the Townsend home, carport roof, car and fishing boat.

No bullet holes were found in the Clements home.

Assault on law enforcement

Roach was also charged with assault and battery on law enforcement for drawing his weapon on Lt. Sean Peterson and Sgt. Stephen Proffitt.

Proffitt testified that as armed Fluvanna deputies approached the Roach home, Roach said, “I’ll kill you, you come any closer!”

The officer’s bodycam video was played for the judge. While not visible to the courtroom audience, audio captured the moment Proffitt saw Roach’s weapon. “He’s got a long rifle! Take cover!”

He testified that the video showed Roach briefly raise his rifle and look through the scope before lowering it and going inside the house, where he would remain for the next several hours before negotiators convinced him to surrender.

From his vantage point a few feet away, Peterson said he had also seen Roach point his rifle in his direction.

Both officers testified they had been in fear for their lives. A .243 round “would have went through my vest, through me, and through my vest again,” said Proffitt.

Issues of malice

The defense called no witnesses and did not dispute most of the facts entered by the Commonwealth. Instead, Reid argued multiple motions to strike most of the charges against Roach on technical grounds.

Specifically, he argued the evidence did not prove “malice.” Roach was shooting in the direction of the Townsend home, but even when Michael Townsend was in full view, Roach didn’t fire directly at him. Sarah Williams was hit by fragments of a random shot, not deliberately targeted, and there was no clear evidence he had shot at Kimberly Clements or her home at all.

“He’s either the worst shot in the world, or he wasn’t trying to shoot at the Townsends,” Reid said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Haislip countered, “There’s a ton of evidence that he was trying to hurt these people, [but] he was thwarted by metal and steel and wood, and probably some bad aim along the way.”

Immediately following closing arguments, Judge Richard E. Moore found Roach guilty on all charges against the Townsends and Sarah Williams, including attempted malicious wounding, aggravated malicious wounding, and maliciously shooting at an occupied building.

He was also convinced in the assault and battery of both Proffitt and Peterson and multiple charges resulting from the use of a firearm in a felony.

However, Moore found Roach not guilty of shooting at the Clements home and an associated firearms charge, and found him guilty of a lesser charge of assault on Kimberly Clements.

Roach was ordered to return to court for sentencing Nov. 1.

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