A camper was wounded in a 2007 shooting in Arnolds Valley. (Graphic by Stephen Peck)

By Courtney Ridenhour

A Toano man pleaded guilty Friday to trying to kill an Arnolds Valley camper during a shooting in 2007 and was sentenced to serve 17 years in prison.

Kevin Antoney Howard, 29, admitted that he fired until empty a .32-caliber revolver into a tent where Jordan Milford, hit three times, threw his body over his girlfriend, Rachel Crump, to shield her.

Rockbridge County Judge Michael Irvine accepted the plea bargain between Howard’s lawyers and Commonwealth’s Attorney Bucky Joyce.

“The Court finds the plea agreement serves the ends of justice,” the judge said.

The plea agreement carries a 47-year sentence for five felony charges out of nine that Howard faced had he gone to trial before a jury Monday, as scheduled.  Irvine approved the deal, which also requires Howard to be placed on probation for 15 years after his release from prison.

Under the deal, Howard cannot get into any trouble—inside or outside of prison—for the next 30 years. If he does, Irvine said, he could be incarcerated for up to 30 more years.

Joyce told the judge that the victims were aware of the plea bargain, and that they agreed with law enforcement officials that the deal was an appropriate end to the case.

“I guess it’s the old saying, your honor, of the uncertainty of going to a 12-person jury trial,” he said. “You can’t foresee exactly what will happen.”

Joyce emphasized that the evidence was circumstantial: The two campers did not see who shot into the tent during the early morning of May 28. A flashlight dropped outside the tent by the shooter failed to yield fingerprints or DNA. A gun found three weeks later near the campsite also did not contain fingerprints or DNA.

But the prosecutor said investigators found Howard’s fingerprints on the outside of a stolen van abandoned near the campsite. He said they also traced plates on the van to Howard’s former girlfriend.

A few weeks before the shooting a deputy sheriff in Surrey County encountered Howard while responding to a call at the home of a relative of the ex-girlfriend. Howard was in the van, which had not yet been reported stolen. Joyce said the deputy found a spent shell casing that forensic analysts later tied to the gun recovered in Arnolds Valley.

Joyce said Milford, then 22, continues to carry “a couple of lead slugs in his leg.” Crump was not injured.

Investigators recovered cigarette butts from a camouflage tent about 50 yards from Milford and Crump’s.  A search of a state database yielded a “cold hit” for Howard’s DNA, Joyce said.  Analysts conducted a second DNA test after Howard’s arrest last November.

“It still was the same match,” Joyce said.

U.S. marshals arrested Howard in Rockport, Texas.  In January 2009 state and local officials had asked for federal help finding Howard.

Howard originally faced nine charges. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder, aggravated malicious wounding, grand larceny, and two counts of use of a firearm. The other four charges were dropped as part of the plea bargain.

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