FearIn her closing arguments for the sentencing phase of the four-day trial of Jeffrey Martin Young this week, Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt said Young’s brutal, unprovoked attack of Ciera Sowers Boyd in the parking lot of Slaughter’s Supermarket on Jan. 30, 2008, marked a “loss of innocence” for Floyd County.

Slaughters, Shortt said, is more than a grocery store. It’s a community gathering place, a location where people see friends, discuss issues and exhange stories about family and life. When Young ran Boyd down with his mother’s car and then beat her first with a wooden log and then a bat-like club, it not only left her scarred physically and emotionally but shocked the community to its core. She told a jury of six men and six women that she is afraid now to go shopping alone, avoids strangers and fears walking through parking lots.

The jury convicted Young of malicious wounding in the case, along with three other counts that included threatening sheriff’s deputies and interferring with their duties and recommended a sentence of 16 years, eight months. If Judge Howe Brown accepts the recommendation, as most Virginia judges do, when he sentences Young on Feb. 8, 2010, the 32-year-old man will stay in prison until he is 49. Virginia no longer allows parole. The time you get is the time you serve

Christianburg attorney Fred Kellerman and Roanoke-based co-counsel Neil Horn tried to convince the jury that Young should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Horn successfully won an acquittal for Young in the hit-and-run murder of Roanoke County Attorney Tom Farrell but Floyd County juries don’t buy excuses for criminal behavior. The Sowers family had hoped for a longer sentence (he could have received up to 45 years) but the Copper Hill resident with a long history of bizarre and dangerous behavior will be off the street for at least 16 years and will remain jailed until his sentencing in February.

There’s little doubt that Young should not be on the street. First diagnosed with a “psychotic disorder” in 2003, he has a long record of dangerous behavior. He choked his mother until she was unconcious. He poured gasoline on her bed. He cut off his hand with a chain saw — which may or may not have been an accident. He declared himself to be Jesus Christ with a small band of followers.

Yet the mental health system continued to put him back on the street. That system failed and now its up to the prison system to protect society from Jeffery Martin Young.

Shortt may be right when she says Floyd County lost its innocence but Young’s brutal attack of a young woman in a public parking lot is only one symptom of the disease that threatens the health of the community. Crime, both violent and otherwise, is on the rise: Two violent deaths last year, another in 2009. Break-ins and robberies increase each month, taxing an already-overburdened sheriff’s department facing cutbacks in funding and manpower.

Vandalism is on the rise, graffiti now appears more often around the county. Reports of gasoline theft from cars become routine. Lawn tractors disappear. Someone recently stole an expensive bicycle that belonged to a volunteer at Angels in the Attic.

Defense attorney Kellerman, in his opening statement for the trial of Jeffrey Martin Young, quoted from John Milton’s epic blank-verse poem Paradise Lost. In the end, a jury from a county threatened with losing its paradise sent his client to prison.