Court docs shed new light on botched Fairfax Co. sex crimes case

Court transcripts reveal new details about why a man who confessed to molesting a child was offered a plea deal in Fairfax County. 

Ronnie Reel, a convicted felon, was 35 years old when police say he sexually assaulted an 11-year-old boy in Burke. 

The boy’s mother spoke out last week after Reel, who was facing life in prison on a sodomy charge, walked free from court on time served after pleading to a misdemeanor. He was offered the deal after the circuit court’s chief judge ruled the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office didn’t turn in evidence on time. 

"This is my child. This is my baby. And he got no justice," said the boy’s mother, Amber, who didn’t want to use her last name to protect her son’s identity. 

Fairfax County Chief Public Defender Dawn Butorac represented Reel. She filed a motion to dismiss the case after the prosecutor missed the court ordered discovery deadline by four months.  

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According to the court transcript, Butorac told the judge that after she alerted Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Whitney Gregory in August about the April deadline, three weeks passed with no response.  

Butorac said the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has "all the power, the money, the resources."

"They should do what they’re told to do," she said. "When my client violates a court order, he goes to jail." 

According to the transcript, Chief Judge Penney Azcarate said she was frustrated by the missed deadline. 

"It's very concerning to the Court – and unfortunately, this is not the first time I've had this motion in the past few months," Azcarate said, per the transcript. "So, I'm just – it's very frustrating to the Court." 

Azcarate went on to say deadlines were "woefully, woefully missed in this case, which is just a disservice to the victim in this case and is very concerning to the Court that this case was not taken as much responsibility as it should have been." 

She also criticized the prosecutor for not taking responsibility after Gregory blamed police for being late with DNA evidence. 

Both Azcarate and Butorac stated this has happened before. 

Ultimately, Azcarate did not dismiss the case, but ruled the prosecution’s evidence couldn't be heard at trial, including two confessions by Reel. She also ruled that Gregory could call no witnesses but the child. The prosecution witness list was also turned in late to Butorac. 

Once on the stand, there were consistency issues with the boy’s testimony. 

Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano again declined to speak about the case. 

Spokesman Ben Shnider said the discovery deadline was not missed because most of the discovery was provided earlier in the case when it was still in Juvenile and Domestic Court.  

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"We acted immediately in response to this novel ruling, and notified all prosecutors that discovery must now be submitted again in Circuit Court  – even if it was already conveyed in a lower court," Shnider said. 

He said the case should have been delayed and not dismissed because "according to the law, the remedy for such a dispute is a routine continuance – which was sought by our prosecutor and denied." 

Butorac said no such law exists.

"The Commonwealth has an obligation to do their job, and they failed in this case," Butorac said. "And then they tried to make excuses for their failure to do their job."

George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg reviewed the transcript and agreed there was a discovery violation by the prosecution. 

"It’s a shame," Saltzburg said. "The victim is disserved. The public is disserved. But the constitutional rights of this defendant are upheld." 

But he said many judges would have handled this differently. Saltzburg suggested sanctioning the prosecutor, freeing the defendant and granting a continuance could be one remedy. 

"I have the feeling from reading the transcript that there may have been more here than just this case," Saltzburg said. "I get the sense the judge was sending a message to the Fairfax County prosecutor’s office." 

The victim’s mother said it was difficult to explain to her son what happened in the case. She said when they got home from court, he went to his punching bag in the basement.

"He wasn’t even out of his court clothes. He went downstairs, and he just started kicking and punching," she said. "He was heartbroken, I think." 

Reel was on probation in Stafford County for grand larceny auto theft and eluding police, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. 

A DOC spokesman said he was arrested last week and is now in the Rappahannock Regional Jail pending a probation revocation hearing.