Adam Oakes wasn’t approved to join the Delta Chi fraternity at Virginia Commonwealth University, but its members allowed him to participate as an “underground pledge,” prosecutors said Monday in Richmond Circuit Court, three days after 11 former fraternity members were indicted in connection with Oakes’ death in February.
Ten of the 11 fraternity members appeared before judges for bond hearings and arraignment on misdemeanor charges of unlawfully hazing a student and providing alcohol to an underage person. They received bonds between $500 and $5,000, and none made a plea.
The 11th defendant, who was arrested in Prince William County on Friday, was released on bond the same day.
At Monday’s hearings, prosecutors shared never-before-heard details about Oakes’ death, which occurred at an alcohol-infused off-campus party attended by 40-plus people at which Oakes’ blood alcohol content spiked to 0.40%, five times the legal driving limit.
“I’m reliving the whole evening again,” Eric Oakes, Adam’s father, said after the hearings.
Courtney White, Adam’s cousin, said she hopes each defendant is punished according to his level of involvement. Prosecutors singled out Andrew White, Oakes’ “big brother,” as one who made “choice after choice incorrectly.” (Courtney White and Andrew White are not related.)
Delta Chi’s national headquarters didn’t approve Adam Oakes as a new member, because his grade-point average didn’t meet the minimum 2.5 requirement, Courtney White said. But chapter members allowed him and two others to join anyway as unofficial pledges.
The following account is based on a police investigation that Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alison Martin shared with the court Monday:
On the night of Feb. 26, Delta Chi invited Oakes to a party on West Clay Street where he met his “big brother,” Andrew White.
Earlier in the evening, Delta Chi held an event for seven official new members. There was no alcohol, and chapter adviser Aaron Gilbert attended. But Oakes and the other two underground pledges did not.
Because Oakes wasn’t an official pledge, he did not participate in the university’s anti-hazing training that week.
The Delta Chi students ate dinner at two restaurants before picking up Oakes and the other two. The older members told the pledges to put their heads down as they rode in the car.
All 10 pledges arrived at the house on West Clay and were sent to an upstairs bedroom. One by one, they were called down and introduced to their big brothers. The older members made “family drinks,” gave them to the younger members in 20-ounce Solo cups, and instructed them to chug. The drink Andrew White made for Oakes — Jack Daniels mixed with a drop of Coca-Cola, Courtney White said — was exceedingly strong.
Then each pledge was given a handle of liquor, which contains about 40 shots. It was chapter tradition for each big brother and little brother duo to finish their bottle together.
A witness told authorities that one student at the party announced that usually Delta Chi doesn’t haze, but that night, they were going to “get f---ed up.” Courtney White said pledges told her that student was Delta Chi President Jason Mulgrew, one of the 11 indicted.
There’s evidence Oakes threw up and passed out, though partygoers gave conflicting reports. At some point in the night, he was left on the floor.
One witness said that White stayed with Oakes into the night, gave him a blanket and pillow, and remarked that Oakes was sleeping and snoring when Andrew White Facetimed another fraternity member at 3 a.m. It’s unclear how long White stayed with Oakes.
The next morning, Oakes was found unresponsive on the dining room floor by residents of the house. They called 911, and authorities arrived at 9:15. Oakes’ body was stiff, indicating he had died. Testing showed his blood alcohol content was 0.40%.
On Friday, VCU police arrested seven former members of the fraternity, which VCU disbanded last spring: Benjamin Corado, Quinn Kuby, Riley McDaniel, Alessandro Medina-Villanueva, Jason Mulgrew, Christian Rohrbach and Colin Tran. Police in Prince William County arrested an eighth, Enayat Sheikhzad.
Three other former Delta Chi members were indicted in the case, and they appeared in court Monday morning: Andrew White, Alexander Bradley and Robert Fritz.
Andrew White, 21, Oakes’ big brother, isn’t enrolled this semester, a VCU spokesperson said. He lives and works in South Carolina, his lawyer told the court. He writes stories for the conservative media outlet NationalFile.com that contain misinformation regarding topics of election fraud, COVID-19 death counts and the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine. He is charged with unlawful hazing and providing alcohol to an underage person. A judge ordered him to remain in Virginia.
Bradley, 21, lives in Richmond and attends VCU as a senior business information systems major, his lawyer said. Bradley attended the party but left at 10:30 p.m., the lawyer added. He is charged with unlawful hazing and serving alcohol to a minor.
McDaniel, 21, is a VCU student who lives in Richmond and has no criminal record, his lawyer told the court. He is charged with unlawful hazing.
Several lawyers told the court their clients had been suspended by VCU on Friday. One lawyer said all the defendants who were current students had been suspended, but a VCU spokesperson declined to confirm that. VCU’s student code of conduct allows for a suspension of students who are charged with crimes and deemed unfit to remain on campus as legal proceedings continue.
Prosecutors have charged the 11 defendants with misdemeanors. Unlawful hazing and serving alcohol to a minor are Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of $2,500.
The 10 who appeared before Richmond judges Monday received bonds of as little as $500 to as high as $5,000. While seven of them spent the weekend in police custody, Sheikhzad was released on bond Friday, and three turned themselves in to authorities by Monday morning.
All 10 were directed to have random drug and alcohol screenings, and several were ordered to live with their parents.
Courtney White said after the hearings that she had never heard of Andrew White making a phone call at 3 a.m., and she questioned the authenticity of the claim because Oakes almost certainly would have displayed symptoms of alcohol poisoning by then, she said. Courtney White and her family spoke with six pledges shortly after her cousin’s death in an effort to reconstruct the events of the night. A pledge also told her that Oakes was never given a pillow and blanket and that he was found face down on a sticky, cold floor.
Martin, the assistant commonwealth’s attorney, declined to answer questions after the hearings.
White said she’s encouraged that members of Delta Chi are finally facing some consequences for their actions. News of their arrests has gained national attention.
“The whole country’s watching,” Eric Oakes said.
As frustration continues over people who refuse to get the free COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Ralph Northam issued strong words on Monday and suggested that such people think about their obituaries.
Nearly all new COVID-19 cases are of those who were not vaccinated, and the data shows that vaccinations have few serious side effects, Northam said at a Monday news conference. Choosing not to get a vaccine could mean death, he reminded the public.
“If you know that and you still don’t want the shot, then I hope you give some thought to how your family will remember you,” he said. “Give some thought to what they’ll do without you. Think about how you want your obituary to read because you’re taking a foolish, dangerous chance, and it affects many more people than just you.”
COVID case numbers in Virginia have dropped in the past few days but are still way too high, Northam said.
“Ask any exhausted nurse in any hospital in Virginia,” he said. “Today, we reported 1,997 new cases. That’s better than a couple weeks ago, but it’s a whole lot more than the start of the summer when at one point we had fewer than 100 cases in a day.”
“Patience is wearing thin” among those who chose to get vaccinated and want normal life back, he said.
“By choosing not to get vaccinated, you are absolutely hurting other people,” he said. “Unvaccinated COVID patients are the people filling up our hospitals right now, making it difficult for everyone else to get the hospital care that they need, and you are costing everyone a lot of money.”
Northam acknowledged there was probably little he could do to convince people who still haven’t gotten the vaccine. But he reminded the public that a year after contracting the disease himself, he still cannot taste or smell.
“Believe me, you don’t want to get it.”
More than 80% of adults in Virginia have had one COVID-19 vaccination shot, and 60% of the population is fully vaccinated. State employees are vaccinated at comparable rates, officials said. The governor issued a directive requiring many state employees to either get vaccinated or show weekly proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Virginia State Police is one agency falling short. About 63.6% of troopers have been partially or fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state police.
Although Northam’s directive to state employees was to go into effect on Sept. 1, the testing requirements apparently haven’t gone into effect yet.
“The testing protocol, per Governor Northam’s Executive Directive 18, has not been implemented and is still being finalized,” state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said by email. “This is in keeping with guidance provided by the Virginia Department of Human Resource for state agencies. The VSP Procurement Unit is still in the process of ordering antigen (rapid test) test kits for unvaccinated employees statewide.”
Geller said the department is encouraging troopers to talk to their personal doctors about the vaccine and “continuously providing all sworn and civilian employees with the latest Virginia Department of Health and CDC recommendations.”
Northam also discussed booster shots and upcoming vaccines for children under 12.
Booster shots are available for people who received the Pfizer vaccine and are immunocompromised, have an underlying medical condition, are over age 65 or are a front-line worker. Shots are not yet available for people who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Information is available at vaccinate.virginia.gov.
Children ages 12 to 17 became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in the spring and are vaccinated at close to the same rate as adults. Vaccines aren’t available yet for children under 12, but the state will be ready when they are, Northam said.
There are strong disparities in vaccination rates among children who are eligible for a vaccine, the governor said. In Alexandria, for example, nearly all children ages 12 to 15 have received at least one shot, while in rural areas like Highland and Patrick counties, the rate is just 17%, he said.
Chris Lott last hugged her father 13 years ago.
She was 20 at the time, a senior in college at Christopher Newport University in Newport News. She had driven to Richmond to ask him for fatherly advice, said Lott, who is now 33 and living in New Orleans. He always had time to listen.
“What sticks with me is that we hugged before I headed back to campus,” she said in an interview Monday. “It’s haunting.”
Her father, Benjamin Lott, disappeared shortly thereafter. Chris Lott said the family and police have no idea why or how he went missing.
On Sept. 26, 2008, he’d called into work and asked for the day off, and hasn’t been heard from since.
“Every morning, I wake up hoping to be able to see and hear from him again, and give him a hug,” she said at a news conference called by Richmond police to bring attention to the case and two others on the anniversaries of their disappearances.
Robert Long, 55, was reported missing by his parents on Sept. 24, 2011; and Keeshae Jacobs, 21, hasn’t been heard from since a phone call with her mother, Toni Jacobs, on Sept. 26, 2016.
“We’ve all been waiting a long time,” Chris Lott said ahead of the news conference, applauding the department’s effort to galvanize public support for missing persons cases. “Hoping that our loved ones would return.”
“Keeping these cases active and in the public’s eye is personally important to me, but also to the family and friends of the missing: They have not been forgotten,” said Police Chief Gerald M. Smith on Monday. “We will never forget. We will never stop working. We will continue to strive until they come home. ... We will not give up that search.”
Unequal media attention and police response for some missing persons cases has become a national talking point following the disappearance of Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, a 22-year-old white woman reported missing on Sept. 11 after she did not return from a monthslong cross-country trip with her fiance.
Her remains were found days later, but not before a wide-reaching search from federal, state and local authorities and prime-time, daily coverage by national outlets.
In a Richmond Times-Dispatch story published Sunday, Toni Jacobs, who, like her missing daughter, is Black, said: “My heart breaks for everybody that has someone missing or murdered, but at the same time, none of this stuff was done for my baby. It makes me think what could they have done better, and if they would have done the same thing they did in Gabby’s case, would Keeshae be home?”
Richmond police launched an effort earlier this year to raise awareness of cases, at least locally, on the anniversaries of their disappearance.
On Monday, Smith encouraged people to share information about the cases on social media and to call Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 with any tips, no matter how small.
It’s been five years for Toni Jacobs, who after Monday’s news conference said “any day now” she expected to hear from her daughter, who went missing on Sept. 26, 2016. Less than four months later, Jacobs’ son, Deavon, was shot and killed at a hotel on Midlothian Turnpike.
Keeshae was last seen with some friends in the Chimborazo area near Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood.
Detective Clarence Key said police interviewed a “main person of interest,” who is currently locked up on unrelated charges.
“Please help me, help my daughter, help all these families who have missing loved ones,” Toni Jacobs tearfully pleaded on Monday.
Benjamin Lott is also Black. He was 43 at the time he went missing
Key said Lott had been a “model employee.” He worked at a Wachovia bank in western Henrico County and had called in on Sept. 26, 2008, asking for the day off.
“From that point on, no one heard from him,” Key said Monday.
After missing several days at work, which was unusual for Lott, Key said, colleagues reached out to his family, who officially reported him missing on Oct. 2, 2008.
Lott’s car, a 2006 black Saturn, was found in a Chesterfield County parking on Oct. 1, Key said. That’s where the trail ended.
Chris Lott said she’s hoping for answers, for her and her family, “and closure, so we can heal.”
Robert Long, who is white, has been missing for 10 years. At the time, his parents expressed concerns about his mental health, Key said.
Though Long was living in the city’s West End at the time of his disappearance in 2011, he frequently panhandled and had at times been homeless.
Key said he was known to police, who searched local shelters and mental health facilities to no avail.
The compromise map came together behind the scenes over the weekend, the product of negotiations between party-allied staff and the co-chairs of the commission.
The compromise map presented on Monday did not settle a key sticking point among commission members: the creation of districts where racial minorities can elect candidates of their choice.
The jointly produced map included three Black-majority districts and two that come close to the 50% mark, and six additional districts where a combination of racial minority groups make up the majority.
If the 2020 census were applied to the maps now in effect, it would yield four Black-majority districts and eight minority-majority districts, commission staff said Monday.
One key feature of the newly proposed map is that it reduced from initial proposals the number of incumbents who would have found themselves running in primaries or party contests against fellow legislators.
The panel’s co-chairs directed the move despite statements from some commission members that such protection should come at the end of the process.
In Northern Virginia, co-chair Greta Harris said, the only incumbents who are still paired in proposed districts with other incumbents are Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and Finance Chair Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, who are both planning to retire rather than seeking additional four-year terms in 2023. (Saslaw would be in the same district as Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax. Howell would be in the same district as Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax.)
Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, who used to sit on the commission, and Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, would be in the same district, but Newman has said he is unlikely to run again.
Sen. Jenn Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, would be in the same district as Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, but Kiggans is running for Congress next year, seeking the seat held by Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd.
Aside from districts in which incumbents have suggested they might not seek re-election, only one conflict remained: the pairing of Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, in a proposed district with Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County.
The commission took a single vote Monday night to tentatively approve a Senate map for Hampton Roads drawn by Republican staff. That map would have shifted some competitive seats westward, potentially making them more amenable to Republican candidates.
That vote was eventually reversed due to the absence of Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond. The commission verbally agreed to leave the configuration of the area open to further debate.
Harris described the area as the “stickiest wicket” among the issues dividing the commission.
The commission found room for agreement on the region Monday, asking the map-drawing staff to keep the city of Portsmouth in one district, at the urging of Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton.
Barker said it was not “the best look” to split two populous localities with sizable Black populations.
“We’ve done packing and cracking, and we’ve left that in the past,” he said.
The commission expects to continue working on the Senate map throughout the week, with another meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
The commission has until Oct. 10 — less than two weeks — to finish its maps for the Virginia House and Senate. It has until Oct. 25 — fewer than 30 days — to produce a map for the state’s U.S. House seats, which it hasn’t started to work on.
Which party stands to benefit most will be the ultimate sticking point between commission members as the legislative maps come together.
Two Democratic lawmakers on Monday argued that the party’s winning streak in statewide elections dating to 2009 suggests that a map slightly benefiting Democrats would meet the criteria of not “unduly favoring” one party or another.
In recent years, the GOP has lost control of both legislative chambers, essentially locking the party out of control. An analysis by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project suggested that an “optimally fair map, in light of Virginia’s legally mandated redistricting criteria and Virginians’ voting behavior, should yield between 24 and 28 Democratic seats” in the 40-member state Senate.
The map the commission started off with on Monday has 19 seats that lean Democrat, 15 seats that lean Republican, and six competitive districts, according to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project.
“There are about two seats, two additional seats that could be added to the Democratic base based upon the three maps that have been presented here. And I think there are opportunities clearly to do that,” Barker said.
Christopher Bartolomucci, a consultant for the Republicans, said the focus should be on applying neutral criteria and creating competitive districts.
“I think the commission’s work to date has been focused on applying the neutral criteria, and not trying to put a thumb on the scale in terms of one party or the other,” he said. “And I would think that would satisfy your requirement of not unduly favoring or disfavoring each political party.”
Culpeper town officials say they are not planning to accept Richmond’s monument of A.P. Hill, contradicting a previous statement from Mayor Levar Stoney’s press secretary about pending plans to move it to a public cemetery in the Northern Virginia town.
Culpeper Deputy Clerk Ashley Clatterbuck said Monday that the town has been in contact with a Richmond-area funeral home only about relocating Hill’s remains, which are buried underneath the monument, to Fairview Cemetery. She said there’s been no discussion otherwise about the town accepting the monument or locating it at the cemetery.
“We started talking about it around midsummer last year, and it’s been strictly through Bennett Funeral Home. ... They’re the ones working with the city,” Clatterbuck said. “The funeral home has never mentioned or asked about the monument.”
The monument of Hill is the city’s last Confederate statue in the city outside of Capitol Square after the state’s removal of the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue earlier this month. It’s been more than a year since the city took down all of its other Confederate monuments, but it remains unclear what the city plans to do with them as they remain in temporary storage.
Richmond officials say City Council staff and city administrators are working together to craft recommendations for the final disposition of the monuments, but have not shared details or a timeline about the plans that must be approved by the city’s legislative body, per a recently changed state law that allows localities to take down Confederate monuments.
Jim Nolan, the mayor’s spokesman, said earlier this month that the city administration and descendants of Hill’s family had reached an agreement to move the monument and his buried remains that rest underneath it to the cemetery in Culpeper. Stoney later mentioned the agreement in a news conference, saying he would soon introduce an ordinance for the council to authorize the plan.
Nolan did not say whether he misspoke earlier this month or if the administration had intended to ask the town to take the monument as well.
“Pending approval in Circuit Court, our current understanding is the family wishes for the remains to be re-interred in a cemetery in Culpeper,” Nolan said Friday evening. “The final disposition of the monument is still being negotiated with the family.”
The Confederate lieutenant general, who grew up in Culpeper, is buried beneath the Richmond monument, located at the intersection of Hermitage Road and West Laburnum Avenue. His remains were moved there from Hollywood Cemetery in 1891, about 25 years after he died outside of Petersburg at the end of the Civil War.
Andrew Morehead, a funeral director for Bennett Funeral Homes, said he has been acting as a liaison between Hill’s descendants and the city. (Morehead has also been a spokesman for the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which lobbied against the removal of Confederate monuments. He said his involvement in this case is strictly as a funeral director.)
Morehead declined to share details about the ongoing negotiations with the city and family, citing an agreement to keep the discussions confidential. He confirmed, however, that the parties have not yet agreed on where the monument should be located.