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Commonwealth of Virginia v. Dorian G. Lester :
Post-trial Injustice

Dorian Lester's right to an appeal has been summarily taken away. 

After lengthy correspondence with the Charlottesville Cicuit Court, the incumbent Judge there and the Clerk, in which Dorian Lester tried to draw the Judge's attention to the fact that his appeal was being placed in jeopardy - correspondence published in full below - he received the following letter from the Virginia Court of Appeals:
December, 2000.

Dorian Gill Lester,
Record No. 2811-00-2
Circuit Court Nos. CR97-417-l
CR9 7-417-3

Commonwealth of Virginia,
Appellee.From the Circuit Court of the City of CharlottesvilleThe record reflects that the notice of appeal was not timely filed with the clerk of the trial court in this case. Accordingly,this case is dismissed. See Turner v.Commonwealth 2Va. App. 96( 1986).The Commonwealth shall recover of the appellant the costs in the trial court.

This order shall be certified to the trial court.   

The Judge's response, when he was forwarded the above,was to confirm that he no longer had jurisdiction over Dorian Lester's case and to forward this to the defense attorney and to the Commonwealth Attorney. 

Is a clerical error responsible for depriving an individual of his constitutional right to appeal a sentence in this case - or does this latest "error" conform to an established pattern in the Lester case ? 
1997 - removal of court-appointed attorneys denied
1998 - motion to retain a private attorney denied
1998 - motion to declare a mistrial on the basis of withheld evidence and disagreeing with the attorneys'defense strategy - denied
1999 - motion for a new trial on the basis of conflicting evidence denied.

In the months following the trial, Dorian Lester's co-defendant, now acquitted of all felony charges, retained a local Charlottesville lawyer, Lloyd Snook, to present a motion for a new trial on the basis of differing testimony of key state witnesses, withheld evidence, and the willingness of Lester's former co-defendant to testify on his behalf. 

The newly appointed judge, Edward Hogshire, turned the motion down. 

In August 1999 Dorian Lester was formally sentenced to two life terms in prison. 

As of this writing, well over a year after the sentencing, his appeal has not been filed at the Virginia Court of Appeals. The following is an exchange of correspondence on the matter - this strange "Case of the Missing Appeal" - between Dorian Lester, the Supreme Court Clerk, and the Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge... correspondence which speaks for itself... 

1. Dorian's letter to the Supreme Court Clerk:

To the Clerk’s Office
Supreme Court of Virginia
100 North Ninth Street, Fith Floor
Richmond, VA 23219 

Re: Case #C1997-08536
Commonwealth of Virginia v. Dorian G. Lester 


I am the Defendant in the above case, which was heard at a jury trial in April 1998. The jury handed down a capital murder conviction, recommending a sentence of two life terms. A subsequent motion for a new trial having been rejected by the incumbent Judge, I was formally sentenced, as recommended, in August 1999. 

The attorney who presented the motion for a new trial, Lloyd Snook (located at 108 5th Street S.E., Charlottesville VA, 22902), was re-appointed by Judge Hogshire, as a court-appointed lawyer to represent me at the appeals stage. 

At the end of 1999 I was made aware that the Circuit Court Clerk had "lost" my notice of appeal - I was made aware of this through my co-defendant, who endeavors to keep in touch with my attorneys. I myself have not had any direct communication with my attorney since the sentencing. 

After some months the notice of appeal was "found", and therefore my right to an appeal is not in jeopardy. However, I was further informed that the Court Clerk was too busy to go through my files, and that an intern from the UVA would be recruited for the task during the Easter break. 

There has yet been no indication, however, that the appeal has been noticed in the Appellate Court. Indeed, to this day I have no information whatsoever regarding the status of my appeal. 

Therefore, I've resolved to take the unusual step of approaching the Supreme Court, upon the advice of my co-defendant's attorney (my co-defendant was acquitted of all felony charges, and is monitoring my legal situation closely). 

I respectfully request the Court to intervene, so that I may exercise my right to an appeal in due course 

Yours truly, 

Dorian G. Lester

2. The reply to Dorian from the Clerk's office... 


June 23, 2000 

Mr. Dorian G. Lester, No. 275051
Sussex 1 State Prison
24414 Musselwhite Drive
Waverly, VA 23891-1111 

Re: Dorian G. Lester v. Commonwealth of Virginia 

Dear Mr. Lester: 

In reply to your letter received June 20, I can find nothing to indicate that an appeal has been filed with this Court on your behalf. However, any appeal of a criminal case would first be filed with the Court of Appeals of Virginia (109 North Eighth Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219). I have checked that court’s computer system, though, and cannot find an appeal (other than a pre-trial bond appeal) under your name there. Therefore, I would suggest that you contact your attorney about the matter. 


Patricia H. Krueger
Chief Deputy Clerk

3. Dorian's follow-up letter to Judge Hogshire...

Dorian Gill Lester #275051
Sussex 1
24414 Musselwhite Drive
Waverly, VA 23891-1111
E-mail: [email protected] 

To The Honorable Judge Hogshire
Circuit Court
Charlottesville, VA 22902 

Your Honor, 

I was formally sentenced in your court in August of 1999. The motion for new trial having been denied, Lloyd Snook was reappointed by you as a court-appointed attorney to represent me at the appeals stage. 

I have been given to understand since then, that my notice of appeal was "lost" by the Circuit Court Clerk. While the notice was subsequently found, I have also been informed that the Clerk was so short of resources that he required the assistance of UVA interns to go through my trial transcripts in order to supply the necessary files to my attorney. 

I have been made aware of the above through my former co-defendant. I have had no direct communication regarding the appeal since leaving the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail. 

I have recently written to the Supreme Court of VA, requesting information re: my appeal status. I enclose the reply of the Clerk. 

I hereby respectfully request that you ask my attorney and the Court Clerk why my notice of appeal cannot be found and what exactly is happening to my appeal. I have been unable to obtain a straight answer to that question. 

Yours truly, 

Dorian Gill Lester 

cc: to Lloyd Snook
Snook & Haughey
P0 Box 2486
Charlottesville, VA 22902

4. Judge Hogshire's reply to Dorian... 

315 East High Street
Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

July 21, 2000 

Mr. Dorian Gill Lester #275051
Sussex 1
24414 Musselwhite Drive
Waverly, VA 23891-1111 

Re: Commonwealth v. Dorian G. Lester; File no. 97-471 

Dear Mr. Lester: 

Enclosed please find a copy of a letter dated July 20, 2000 I received from Paul G. Garrett, Clerk of the Charlottesville Circuit Court, which is self-explanatory. 

If you have further questions, you should raise them with your attorney, J. Lloyd Snook, III. 

With kind regards, I am 

E. Hogshire

cc: J. Lloyd Snook, Esq.
Honorable Paul C. Garrett, Clerk

[enclosure] (letter from the Clerk to Judge Hogshire)

315 East High Street
Charlottesville, Virginia 22901-5195
(804) 295-3182

July 20, 2000 

Honorable Edward L. Hogshire, Judge
Charlottesville Circuit Court
315 East High Street
Charlottesville, Virginia 

Re: Commonwealth of Virginia v. Dorian G. Lester, File No. 97-471 

Dear Judge Hogshire, 

This office received a "Notice of Appeal" in the above-styled case sometime shortly after the sentencing hearing but before the signed order was received in this office. No subsequent notice has ever been received. As there was some question as to the effect of this notice, communication was made to the Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Charlottesville and to J. Lloyd Snook III, counsel for the defendant. 

This office is not aware of any representation that the notice from the defendant was "lost". 

Once defense counsel informed this office of its opinion that the notice from the defendant was sufficient for an appeal, efforts were begun and are continuing as of this date to prepare the voluminous record for transmission to the appellate court. It will be sent to the appellate court as soon as possible. 

Yours truly, 

Paul C. Garrett, Clerk

5. Dorian's second letter, and reply, to Judge Hogshire...

Dorian G. Lester #275051
Sussex 1
24414 Musselwhite Drive
Waverly, VA 23891-1111 

To The Hon. Judge E.L. Hogshire
Sixteenth Judicial Circuit
315 East High Street
Charlottesville, VA 22902 

Re: Commonwealth v. Dorian G. Lester, File no. 97-471 

Your Honor, 

I refer to your letter dated July 21st 2000 and the copy of a letter from Paul Garrett, Clerk, which accompanied it. 

I appreciate that it may be irregular for me to enter in direct communication with you. Addressing the present letter to you - my second on the subject of my appeal - is a measure of my growing concern and dismay. 

I have managed to obtain the attached two messages which are self-explanatory also, and somewhat contradictory to Mr Garrett's letter. 

Other than your brief reply to my first letter, I have had no direct communication pertaining to my appeal and now fear that it is being put in jeopardy. I am determined to seek redress of my circumstances and conviction - an indigent status appears to be one of several odds against such a goal. 

I would be greatly in your debt if you could advise me on future procedure (a CC of my original letter was sent to J. Lloyd Snook III ).

[enclosure] (e-mail reply by Lloyd Snook to a message sent on Dorian's behalf)

Subj: Re. Dorian Lester
Date: 09/03/00 01:51:37 GMT Standard Time
From: [email protected] (Lloyd Snook)

I have been avoiding corresponding with you (or with Dorian) because I did not have accurate information, and I didn't want to stir up fears. But your e-mail makes it clear that I should. 

The problem right now is that the Clerk of the Circuit Court has apparently misplaced the Notice of Appeal that we filed for Dorian. I remember that Dorian signed it in Court and we submitted it in open court. That's when the judge appointed me to represent Dorian on appeal. 

It then took the Deputy Clerk about 5 weeks to do the final order. I was waiting for the final order, and for the notice that the record had been submitted to the Court of Appeals. At that point the appeal would be "perfected", and the matter would be ready to go forward. 

Because the Clerk misplaced the Notice of Appeal, they have not sent the record to the Court of Appeals, and I am still waiting for the word that the appeal has been perfected. 

First, be assured that even if they lost the Notice of Appeal entirely, Dorian still has a right to appeal, and the remedy could be a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus resulting in a delayed appeal. 

The next step is for the Court Clerk's office to get the file ready to send to the Court of Appeals. Once that has happened, and the record has been received in Richmond, they will send me a letter giving me 40 days to submit a Petition for Appeal. 

When I talked with David Schmidt about this at the end of January, when they were trying to decide whether they had a transcript, etc., he said that he probably wouldn't be able to get to it unless he had a law student intern helping; it is a massive job on a case like this. This next week is spring break for the University students, so I would suspect that we may see some action in the next two or three weeks. 

I don't know why anything should be under seal, but I should be able to get whatever it may be. 


6. Clerk's follow-up reply to Dorian's second letter to Judge Hogshire... 

315 East High Street
Charlottesville, Virginia 22901-5195
(804) 295-3182

September 26, 2000 

Dorian G. Lester, #275051
Sussex 1
24414 Musselwhite Drive
Waverly, Virginia 23891-1111 

Dear Mr. Lester, 

Judge Hogshire showed me on this date the undated correspondence from you pertaining to the matter of the appeal of your case. 

This office is currently waiting for responses from counsel in the case concerning a proposed index for the record that is to be sent to the appellate court. It is anticipated that these responses will be coming soon. The record can then be assembled for transmittal to the appellate court 

Yours truly, Paul C. Garrett, Clerk 

cc: Hon. Edward L. Hogshire
W. D. Chapman (Commonwealth Attorney for the City of Charlottesville)
J. Lloyd Snook, III

...and so the matter presently stands.

Links to further background and details of this astonishing story: 

The Dorian Lester Fund - main page

Personal and professional background
(how to get indicted) 

The Hillary Clinton connection

Political boudoir

Trial and court appointed (mis)representation
A brief aperçu 

Dorian's trial address to Judge Swett

Post-trial injustice

Access to Justice home