Pulaski County Sheriff, Commonwealth’s Attorney leave Democratic Party

Cited re-arrest of man convicted of killing Wythe Co. deputy as one of many reasons for the decision

The daughter of a slain Wythe County deputy spoke out when she learned the man who was convicted of killing her father was later released and just recently got in trouble with the law.

PULASKI COUNTY, Va. – Pulaski County’s Sheriff and Commonwealth’s Attorney have announced that they are leaving the Democratic Party.

In a press release sent out on Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Michael Worrell and Commonwealth’s Attorney Justin Griffith stated that their departure is due to direct repercussions from changes Democratic legislators made in 2020, including the following:

  • Reforming criminal sentencing to prevent juries from sentencing
  • Limiting the power of the courts to sentence defendants on probation violations
  • Passing legislation allowing inmates to be released before serving their full sentences

“We will never stand with the notion that we trust a jury of one’s peers to determine guilt or innocence but do not trust them to sentence,” the two officials said in the release.

In the release, Worrell and Griffith provided specific examples of how they say these changes have had a negative impact.

The examples provided include:

  • The release of David Simpkins, a convicted sex offender who robbed a convenience store in the county. Simpkins was barred from incarceration for his probation violation due to the 2021 probation violation laws.
  • Vincent Martin was convicted of killing a Richmond police officer in 1979. He was paroled without following the board’s procedures
  • Last year in Wythe County, Christopher Wheeler, who was convicted in the 1994 fatal shooting of a Wythe County deputy, was sentenced to 43 years in prison. After serving 26 years, he was granted an early release. He was then re-arrested recently in Oklahoma after he waved a gun inside a restaurant and bragged about killing an officer.

Worrell and Griffith went on to point out that the Virginia Dept. of Corrections expects an “immediate surge” of inmates to be released starting July 1 due to legislation that passed during a Democrat-controlled special session. According to the release, the Dept. of Corrections “estimates that 62% of those being released early have a violent crime somewhere on their record and 54% have a high to medium risk of violent recidivism.”

They stated additional reasons behind their decision to leave the party, including the elimination of qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, calls to remove School Resource Officers, and the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences.

The two officials also cited Hank Partin being blocked from joining the new parole board.

“To quote Democrat Senator Adam Ebbin from Alexandria, ‘I think that the House needs to be taught a lesson.’ We can assure the Northern Virginia legislators, that here in Southwest Virginia, we need no more lessons on how their actions can impact the New River Valley. David Simpkins and Christopher Wheeler have taught us enough,” the release read.

Worrell and Griffith said that they are “in accord with the principles of the Republican Party” and plan to support all of its nominees for public office in the next election.

You can read the full release below:

About the Author:

Samantha Smith joined WSLS 10’s award-winning digital team as a content producer in July 2018.