Pulaski man gets 27 years for hammer attack — (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

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The Roanoke Times,  Richmond Times-Dispatch

Posted: Friday, March 14, 2014 12:14 am

By Melissa Powell

PULASKI – A man who attacked his ex-girlfriend with a sledgehammer was sentenced Thursday to 27 years in prison.

George Viers, 40, said he was trying to kill Melissa Horton that day in January 2012, according to investigators, and that he had wrapped the five-pound tool with pipe insulation “to keep the blood down.”

Horton was able to escape from her home on Sixth Street Southwest but suffered skull fractures and permanent damage,  according to Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor.

In September, Viers pleaded no contest in Pulaski County Circuit Court to aggravated malicious wounding, breaking and entering with the intent to commit murder and violating a protective order.

Viers has a daughter with Horton, but Horton was granted a protective order against him in July 2011 – the same month that Viers was arrested for misdemeanor assault and battery.

On Jan. 24, 2012, Horton left her home to take her daughter to a bus stop. When she returned, Viers came out of a bedroom and struck her in the head with a sledgehammer about four to eight times, Fleenor has said. According to a Pulaski police news release at the time, Horton was able to escape from the house and run down the street screaming for help.

When officers located Horton, she was “covered in blood,” Fleenor has said.

She was taken to the emergency room at LewisGale Hospital Pulaski. Fleenor said Horton required several staples to her head.

Authorities said at the time that Viers fled and was arrested the same day, without incident, on Cedar Lane.

After being advised of his Miranda rights, Viers agreed to speak with police and told officers that he was aware of the protective order against him, Fleenor has said.

Viers said he had parked at the Maple Shade Plaza and walked five or six blocks to get to Horton’s home, carrying the sledgehammer under his coat.

He told police that he remembered hitting her two or three times, Fleenor has said. Viers said that after Horton escaped, he threw the hammer under a bridge. Officers went to the location described by Viers and recovered the hammer, Fleenor has said.

Horton has suffered memory loss, anxiousness, trouble sleeping and concentrating, migraines and difficulty gripping her left hand, among other things, Fleenor said.

Horton has also developed aphasia, which involves difficulty understanding conversations and written words or numbers. The disorder is caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls language and speech and often results in the inability to form sentences, Fleenor said.

Horton has previously testified and was present on Thursday but did not address the court.

“There is no doubt that she has clearly suffered,” Fleenor said, adding that the offense was like “something out of a horror movie.”

Viers’ lawyer, Byron Shankman, said that although his client was ruled competent to stand trial, he was suffering from a depressive disorder at the time of the offense.

There had been a custody battle for his daughter, he had lost his home on Sixth Street because of the protective order and he believed that his daughter was being abused.

“Whether true or not, he believed his daughter was in jeopardy,” Shankman said.

Shankman also said that Viers was on Prozac – a medication to treat depression – and that the pills could have affected his behavior.

But, Fleenor said, a doctor completed a mental evaluation of Viers and concluded that there was no reason to believe he was insane at the time of the offense.

“This is one of the most violent attacks that I’ve ever seen on an adult,” Circuit Court Judge Marcus Long said before announcing the sentence. “This lady is lucky to be alive. … It’s hard to believe one human being would do that to another.”

Viers was sentenced to 45 years, suspended after he serves 27. He will be placed on 15 years of probation upon release.

“I know it’s a lot of years, but it’s a horrible, horrendous crime,” Long said.