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Judge cuts 8 1/2 years off of assault sentence
Judge reduces sentence suggested for an autistic man.

Date published: 5/31/2011

A judge Tuesday suspended most of the 10˝ years a jury had recommended for an autistic man whose assault on a Stafford County deputy forced the officer to retire.

Reginald Cornelius “Neli” Latson, 19, was instead ordered to serve two years in prison.

A courtroom packed mostly with Latson’s supporters watched the proceeding in Stafford Circuit Court.

Latson’s case has attracted widespread attention, with many people insisting that Latson’s condition and a long prison sentence do not mix.

In suspending 8˝ years, Judge Charles Sharp imposed conditions that include several residential treatment programs and intensive probation once Latson is released from prison. He has been behind bars for a year while the case worked its way through court, and that time will count toward his sentence.

During a three-day trial in March, a jury found Latson guilty of assault on a law-enforcement officer, wounding in the commission of a felony, disarming a police officer and obstruction of justice.

Latson had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Deputy Tom Calverly, who had been in law enforcement for more than 30 years, suffered severe ankle damage and other injuries during a May 24, 2010, scuffle with Latson outside North Stafford High School, where Calverly worked as a resource officer.

Calverly was forced to give up his job because of the injury, and ankle-replacement surgery is pending.

Latson’s attorney, William Reichhardt, never disputed that Latson injured Calverly. But he argued that Latson’s conditions, which include a form of autism known as Asperger’s, made it impossible for him to control his actions that day.

The incident began when several children at Park Ridge Elementary School reported seeing a man with a gun at the nearby Porter Library.

Latson had no gun and had committed no crime, but he matched the description provided by the children and was spotted by Calverly coming out of the woods onto North Stafford High property.

Latson became hostile when Calverly tried to identify him, and a scuffle ensued. Calverly testified that he was slammed on the pavement, punched in the head repeatedly, spit on and sprayed with his own pepper spray.

His ankle was injured during the incident, but Calverly was not sure exactly how it happened.

Prosecutor Jim Peterson Tuesday urged Sharp to uphold the jury verdict.

“This is a case, not a cause,” Peterson said. “This is not about autism. This is about a violent man.”

But defense witnesses, who included doctors, a social worker and Latson’s former wrestling coach, said both Latson and society would benefit more from intense treatment rather than prolonged incarceration.

One doctor described Latson’s chances in the prison system as “abysmal.”

Latson actually had two sentencings Tuesday in Stafford. He got seven months to serve for an unrelated assault conviction, but that time will run concurrently with Sharp’s sentence, meaning it won’t add to the two years.

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404