CHATHAM — At the close of an extra day of trial, a Pittsylvania County jury deliberated well past the courthouse’s closing time to find James Rowland Hooper III guilty of second-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony after about two hours and 45 minutes of consideration late Friday evening.
Hooper was convicted in the shooting death of Jacob Steele Robertson, 27, of Lynchburg, after a road rage incident on U.S. 29 in January. Video and witness testimony over the course of the three-day trial showed Hooper, 46, also of Lynchburg, fatally shot Robertson in the chest and then shot him again after both cars pulled into the Circle K gas station next to a Bojangles’ restaurant in Blairs.
Judge Stacey W. Moreau also found Hooper guilty of possession of a firearm as a violent felon in a separate bench trial — a charge carrying five mandatory years incarceration.
The jury recommended the maximum sentence of 40 years on the murder charge after approximately six minutes of deliberation, and the use of a firearm carries three mandatory years in prison. All told, Hooper faces eight mandated years in prison with the possibility of an additional 40 depending on a judge’s determination.
The defense argued Hooper shot Robertson in self-defense, calling both the defendant and his wife, Lillian Hooper, to the stand for testimony. That opened them up to cross-examination from the prosecution, which questioned their side of the story using witnesses and video. Both sides combed through the grainy surveillance footage taken at the gas station to present different versions of the shooting.
Elmer Woodard, Hooper’s defense attorney, argued Robertson approached Hooper with a gun outstretched after the car he was in had run Hooper off the road. The prosecution argued the opposite was true, but stipulated that the events preceding the shooting did not matter as much as the killing. They averred Hooper accosted Robertson with a gun after following him to the gas station — a story borne out by video evidence.
Two weapons were taken from the scene — Hooper’s 9mm pistol and Robertson’s 40-caliber Glock. No 40-caliber casings were found at the scene, though two 9mm cartridges and two 9mm shell casings were found in the area. The spent casings matched to Hooper’s gun. The unspent rounds were not able to be traced back to either gun.
Hooper is scheduled to be sentenced in August.
Whitlow writes for the Register & Bee. Contact him at (434) 791-7983.