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Admitted Albemarle County wife-beater sees charges reduced

An Albemarle County man who allegedly squeezed his wife’s neck so hard that she had trouble retracting her tongue got a reprieve earlier this month from the felony strangulation charge he was facing.

Agreeing to plead guilty, 38-year-old Stephen Ross Thomas got a deal that demands a year of good behavior to gain a lesser conviction with no jail time.

“The court finds sufficient evidence to convict but does not find him guilty,” said Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins.

That pronouncement concluded the May 7 hearing at which the prosecutor revealed events that transpired Dec. 10 at the couple’s apartment.

Sherry Thomas was a recent arrival from the Philippines when she married Stephen Thomas, according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Holly Vradenburgh, who said that Sherry Thomas found that her husband was preoccupied with social media, an accusation that precipitated his actions that day.

“He put his arm around her neck in a chokehold,” said Vradenburgh. “He said he was just trying to keep her calm.”

However, the attack not only rendered the woman briefly unable to breathe, the prosecutor said, but left “ligature marks” on her neck so obvious that when she went to her workplace that evening a fellow employee insisted that she file a report.

The ensuing complaint by county police officer Enzo Irizarry was even more explicit.

“Sherry had marks all over her face, and her eyes were bloodshot,” Irizarry wrote. “She advised that he choked her until it was hard to put her tongue back in her mouth.”

During his interview with the victim, Irizarry said he noticed something else.

“She also had an old bruise on her left arm from a previous incident that she didn’t report,” he wrote.

Irizarry swore out four warrants: abduction, strangulation, assault and battery, and preventing a 911 call. By the time the case moved from juvenile and domestic relations court, the charges had been pared back to the strangulation charge.

These weren’t the first accusations of violence against Stephen Thomas. Court documents show a 2013 assault and battery conviction. Additionally, a previous wife in a previous apartment lodged additional assault and battery charges against him in 2016 and 2018.

The 2016 charge resulted in a court order that Stephen Thomas participate in a batterers’ intervention program offered by the Offender Aid and Restoration office and refrain from “violent/abusive” contact with his wife.

However, less than six months after that case was resolved with the charge dismissed, police were called back to the couple’s Angus Road apartment by neighbors who heard a commotion. There, the responding officer noted allegations that Stephen Thomas had pushed his wife and made her fall while she was attempting to get away from an attack.

“Her left ankle was visibly swollen,” wrote the arresting officer.

That subsequent assault and battery charge was eventually nolle prossed, or dropped.

In Virginia, a strangulation charge can lead to five years of imprisonment and a $2,500 fine. In this case, however, the prosecutor said she consulted with the victim in working out the deal.

“She wants to stay with him,” Vradenburgh said.

Hearing that the victim hopes to rebuild the relationship, the judge ordered the husband to refrain from any violent or abusive contact for the next year and set a return date of May 9, 2025.

On that date, said Higgins, if Stephen Thomas has complied with her directives, which include getting some mental health treatment, the charge would be reduced to an assault and battery conviction, a misdemeanor, with all jail time suspended.

The judge asked Stephen Thomas if he had anything to say.

“I can’t think of anything on the spot,” he replied.

Likewise, his lawyer, Bryan Jones, offered no statement to the court.

This story was corrected to say Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Holly Vradenburgh prosecuted the case.


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