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Albemarle man with history of shooting (and getting shot) sentenced to 3 years

Jalen Maurice Fitch might have gotten away with firing four shots at a moving car had he not left his cellphone and identification card at the scene.

That’s what prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony suggested earlier this year, and she was back in court on May 28 securing a multiyear prison sentence for the 24-year-old Albemarle County man with a history of shooting — and getting shot.

“We have to fashion a sentence that is appropriate for the behavior,” said Antony.

Fitch pleaded guilty in late March to four misdemeanor counts of discharging a firearm in the city of Charlottesville and two charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. While the guidelines created by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission indicate a range of seven months to 1 1/2 years behind bars would be appropriate, Antony urged a total of roughly three years due to Fitch’s criminal record.

His history shows two prior firearms convictions, one for a shooting that backfired on him and another for a raid on his residence that turned up two AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and three handguns while he was on COVID-mandated electronic release from jail. He also has a marijuana distribution conviction and two convictions for assaulting a domestic partner.

“That’s a significant concern for the commonwealth,” Antony told the judge.

One of Fitch’s priors stemmed from his alleged attempt, four years ago, to shoot another man standing outside the Sunshine Supermarket on Cherry Avenue in Charlottesville. Police blamed Fitch for initiating that April 2020 shooting, even though, taking a bullet in one leg, he was the only person injured in the incident.

By contrast, the shooting that brought Fitch to court on May 28 may not have injured anyone. At a March 26 hearing, when Fitch submitted his guilty pleas, the prosecutor described what happened on March 19, 2022.

Antony said police responded to a report of shots fired in the 700 block of Prospect Avenue and later obtained surveillance video that showed Fitch emerging from a residence and climbing into the front passenger side of a car before suddenly leaping out and firing at the same vehicle.

“He can be seen shooting at the vehicle that is moving away from the building,” said Antony.

She said that police recovered four bullet casings plus two other items that assisted their investigation: Fitch’s cellphone and his Virginia state identification card. Antony said the video clearly shows Fitch inadvertently dropping the items during the incident.

Efforts to identify the driver Fitch was allegedly aiming at were less fruitful, since that man never came forward because he and Fitch, Antony said, were involved in “an illegal transaction.”

While several warrants for Fitch’s arrest were issued shortly after the Prospect Avenue shooting, Fitch wasn’t located by law enforcement until January of this year when he was spotted in lower Belmont as a passenger of a Chrysler 300 sedan bearing Florida tags. According to a police report, Fitch was toting a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, which accounted for one of his new firearm convictions.

In court on May 28, Fitch’s lawyer Bryan Jones focused on the Prospect Avenue shooting and urged a one-year jail sentence.

“Had this case gone to trial,” said Jones, “our defense would have been self-defense.”

Jones shared excerpts of some letters penned by a social worker and by family members attesting to Fitch’s character despite losing his father to a lifetime of incarceration and losing his mother, when he was just 15, to cancer.

“My brother Jalen is a lot of good things that the courts will never know or possibly get to see,” wrote older sister Camae Lindsey. “Jalen is a father to one, who is loving, caring, and gentle when it comes to his daughter.”

Antony downplayed the fact that the letters didn’t match the criminal history.

“I don’t discount anything in the letters,” said Antony. “We see that all the time.”

Judge Claude Worrell seemed similarly unswayed by correspondence portraying Fitch as a gentle person inside his house.

“The difference is that the behavior you exhibit outside the house is extremely dangerous,” said Worrell. “It’s history that drives the court’s sentence here.”

In its 2023 annual report, released earlier this month, the Charlottesville Police Department revealed that it responds to an average of one call per day related to gunshots. Likewise, Worrell has wrestled with the proliferation of guns in the community. Last month, for instance, he pronounced himself “stuck” as he delayed the sentencing of a young man who admitted to being “stupid” for livestreaming himself handling an AR-15 on a playground.

“No, sir,” was Fitch’s only statement on May 28 when Worrell asked he had anything to say before the sentence was imposed.

Worrell sentenced Fitch to an active term of one year on the two firearm felonies plus 48 months on the misdemeanors, with credit for time served.

With misdemeanor sentences typically getting reduced by half for jailhouse rule compliance and felonies requiring inmates to serve 85% of their time, Fitch could be released before the end of 2025. He is currently held at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Worrell’s sentence also calls for 10 years of good behavior, which means that as many as nine years of suspended jail time could be reimposed if Fitch were to violate another law.

Fitch’s troubles don’t end with Worrell, as he will likely soon face another judge in Albemarle County Circuit Court to face a pair of probation violation charges. A probation officer has asserted that he failed to comply with his terms by providing false home addresses and declining to seek employment. That court will also consider whether the new firearms convictions constitute a violation, and a scheduling hearing on those matters is set for June 3.


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