Clanagan case continues: Secrecy surrounds proceedings

The Culpeper Commonwealthâ??s Murder by Mob case against Tonie Jones, who is charged in the November 2014 death of Corey Clanagan, continues to remain hidden from public scrutiny through the use of closed courtrooms and sealed files.

Jones, surrounded by six deputies, shackled hand and foot, sat quietly in white prison garb as legal arguments swirled about him in the Culpeper Circuit Courtroom Tuesday, Sept. 22. His attorney, Gil Berger, sporting his signature bow tie during the hearing, had filed for the Sept. 22 appearance before the court. He is requesting the court to order a Bill of Particulars from the Commonwealth for all of the charges against Jones. At the last minute, according to Bergerâ??s comments in court, he added another motion to sever the charges so that they might be tried independently of each other.

The bombshell in the hearing was that Berger is now seeking transcripts of prior hearings on July 30 and August 17. This can only be because something said during those hearings may have a bearing on his case.

â??I want to be careful here because we are in open court,â? he said while addressing the court. But his request, he said, touched on the â??secret sessionsâ? of court. He was apparently referring to, but did not openly say, the closed door hearings in Circuit Court both in Culpeper and Spotsylvania County. The sessions are secret because confidential material from a special grand jury in Spotsylvania County is part of the material being considered.

Assistant Commonwealthâ??s Attorney Angela Catlett represented the Commonwealth during the Sept. 22 hearing, Commonwealthâ??s Attorney Megan Frederick being absent.
Catlett requested copies of the same transcripts as Berger and asked that anything filed during one of those closed hearings be sealed â??so they wonâ??t be discoverable by the public.â?

She also asked that the transcripts be sealed so as prevent public review of the documents.

Berger told the court he would take unnamed â??sealedâ? documents from Culpeper to the Spotsylvania Circuit Court â??as fast as I canâ? to seek more evidence from the mysterious special grand jury proceedings in Spotsylvania County. Those hearings, according to courtroom documents, included Bergerâ??s client. This was after Berger had been appointed to represent Jones, and against Bergerâ??s wishes, according to court documents filed in Culpeper.

Bergerâ??s motion for a Bill of Particulars was continued to October 20. He told the court his argument and the motion for the Bill itself might be affected by the evidence he uncovers in Spotsylvania County.

Circuit Court Judge Susan Whitlock said she would try to have other defendants present on Oct. 20.

Special grand jury proceedings are secret by law.

Stabbed 24 times, 19-year-old Corey Clanagan died at a house party on Cherry Hill Road the night of November 1, 2014. More than 100 people are estimated to have been at the house party when the stabbing took place inside the residence. Clanagan stumbled outside before falling to the ground.

Conner Settle suffered two gunshot wounds to the leg at the same party but survived.

Daniel Akordor, 23, Donell Easter Jr., 21, Jones, 18, Jonathan Milton, Jr., 21 and Ricardo Powell, 25 and 23-year-old Tyrece Branchcomb all stand charged with murder by mob.

Gary Close is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at g57close@aol.com.