An unhoused Charlottesville man was sentenced to a decade in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the 2019 death of another unhoused Charlottesville man.
Allan Ray Via, 52, was initially charged with second-degree murder for the May 16, 2019 shooting death of 24-year-old Cody Jason Cappel, also of Charlottesville. Via was also charged with possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.
Both Via and Cappel were living at a tent encampment near the Rivanna River on Pantops in Albemarle County at the time of the incident.
Thursday in Albemarle County Circuit Court, Via sat masked beside his court-appointed counsel as the parties outlined evidence for and against him. The defense sought to portray Via as a kind man dealing with a variety of physical and mental health issues while the commonwealth attempted to portray Via as a deceitful man who planned to kill Cappel.
According to Richard Farley, assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Albemarle County, the case was more difficult than most given the circumstances. Because of the remote location where Via and Cappel were camping, no video evidence or witness evidence was able to be obtained.
“Two men walked into the woods but only one walked out,” Farley said.
Farley said evidence was uncovered that Via had purchased ammunition of the same caliber used for a gun belonging to Cappel. It was this gun that was eventually used by Via to kill Cappel, Farley said.
After he was shot twice, Farley said, Cappel ran deeper into the woods, sliding down an embankment where he attempted to dress his wounds with materials from a trauma kit before succumbing to his wounds. Via later showed police where the gun was, which had been reloaded with more of the ammunition purchased by Via.
Over the course of the investigation, Farley said Via gave several different accounts of the incident, alternating between claiming that he purchased the ammunition on a whim to claiming that Cappel had asked him to purchase it.
Additionally, Farley said he found Via’s claims that he had grabbed the gun from Cappel during a tussle to be unlikely given Via’s lengthy list of physical injuries, including spine issues.
Nearly a dozen people showed up to support Via, including Owen Brennan, operations director for The Haven, a day shelter in Charlottesville. Brennan was the only witness to testify Thursday, recounting his decade long friendship with Via.
According to Brennan, someone without reliable housing deals with a lot of stress on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard to know what living like that does to someone’s state of mind, he said, especially for people who haven’t experienced housing insecurity.
“A lot of people this week have experienced what it’s like to not have electricity and running water,” he said, referencing the widespread, ongoing power outages in Central Virginia. “But even then they still have a roof over their head, a place to shelter.”
Brennan and Via first met in 2011 when Brennan was volunteering at The Haven. They became friends and, for a short time, roommates. They kept in touch over the years as Via alternated between having housing and not. Brennan said that, upon release, he would be able to assist Via in finding housing.
Liz Murtagh, one of Via’s attorneys, urged the court to sentence Via to around six years in prison, which she argued would be the mid-range for the sentence if the court did not consider an unrelated felony conviction from 20 years prior.
Murtagh asked the court to factor in Via’s mental health issues and “relatively low IQ, in addition to his physical health issues, of which 4,000 pages of medical records exist.
Murtagh also emphasized the impact that stress from housing insecurity and homelessness can have on people, in this case both Via and Cappel.
“He had the same issues with housing as Via,” Murtagh said of Cappel. “He had the same problems finding a home and the same stressors.”
Ultimately Judge Claude Worrell chose to sentence Via closer to the midpoint of the guidelines for an active term of 10 years and one month: 10 years with four years and 11 months suspended for the manslaughter charge and five years for the ammunition charge. Upon release Via will be required to be under supervised probation for five years.
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