Mom won't rest until death of her son is resolved

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   Two years ago this past week, Charles E. "Chas" Stanton II died at the University of Virginia Medical Center from an infection stemming from a gunshot wound to the head which police ruled was self-inflicted.
   But from the time the 1996 Happy Valley High School graduate was shot, on March 15, 2001, till his death four months later on July 28, Chas maintained that he did not fire the shot from the .22-caliber pistol. He told police, physicians and family members the same story. Apparently his mother was one of the few who believed him.
   Jane Stanton, who lives on Rockhouse Road, will not rest until her son's killer is found. Her persistence has led Orange County, Va., authorities to reopen the case.
   Stanton said former Orange County Police Chief James Otto resented her questioning the "self-inflicted" ruling. "When I questioned the chief of police, he told me I watched too much TV and it was none of my business; that he had ruled it at the time of the shooting as self-inflicted -- end of story -- and for me not to question it," she said.
   While in the hospital, she said, "My son told me, he told my daughter that he didn't do it to himself. He told the paramedics he didn't do it. He told the psychiatrist, 'I did not shoot myself.' Nobody in authority wanted to listen.
   "After he died I kept pushing and pushing and trying to get somebody to reopen the investigation," she said. Tim Sanner, former Commonwealth attorney at the time of Chas's death, was persuaded to have the Orange County Sheriff's Department look into the case. "They found enough evidence to say, 'Yes, it was a homicide,'" Stanton said.
   Orange County Sheriff's Office Investigator L.H. "Chip" Brezee and Investigator Danny Call were given the case sometime around November 2001.
   "Mrs. Stanton contacted the then-Commonwealth attorney here, who is the prosecutor, and told him that basically she was not satisfied with the information that the town of Orange Police Department was providing her," Brezee said. Sanner then asked for the case file.
   "After looking at the case file, he called my sheriff and said, 'I think somebody should look at this.' So my sheriff went and got the case file and presented it to Investigator Call and I, and we agreed it should be looked at, and that's what we've been doing," Brezee said.
   According to information released by Orange County Sheriff C.G. Feldman to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., on the night of March 15, Chas and his live-in girlfriend had an argument. She left the home they rented and went to a pay phone to call a friend -- one of Chas's co-workers -- and asked him to come "mediate" the fight. The two met in a nearby parking lot and drove together back to the house, where, upon their arrival, they found Stanton shot in the head.
   Orange police responded and worked the case as a suicide. A .22 pistol, which did not belong to Stanton, was recovered from the scene.
   "My son was in the hospital four months," Stanton said. After his death, she tried to get a copy of the police report and hire a lawyer, however, she said she was denied access to the report. She questions whether a report which later surfaced is legitimate.
   "According to the chief of police, when I asked to see the police report, I was told it was none of my damn business and I could not have access to it," she said.
   "The newspaper there in the city of Orange did not even publish my son's obituary after our local funeral home sent it to be published." A year after Chas's death, she wrote a letter to the editor and asked that it be published. That request, too, was refused.
   "My son lived up there and worked up there, and he deserved more than what he got," she said.
   Chas worked for an Orange plumbing company, W.A. Sherman. He met his girlfriend in Orange a year or two prior to moving to that area, according to his mother.
   "She left her husband and moved in with my son and came down here briefly. She wanted to move back up there to be closer to her daughter. They ended up moving back up there in October 2000, and then he was shot March 15, 2001. Her divorce was final in February before my son was shot in March," Stanton said.
   Chas sent a letter to his mother two weeks before he was shot, stating that he and his girlfriend had been arguing, "which is normal in any relationship," Stanton said. Chas had not reported any problems with any of his co-workers, and he and his girlfriend's ex-husband were friends, she said.
   On Thursday, March 15, according to Stanton, "Chas came home from work at 4:30 p.m. and the 911 call came in at 10 till 5."
   She said she was told that Chas's girlfriend came to the hospital that Saturday after the shooting. The next day, fearing that someone might want to do Chas harm, she had a block put on all visitors except immediate family.
   Orange police came to the hospital once after the shooting, she said. "I was standing in the room when the detective asked him: 'Were you doing this trying to get attention?' And he said, 'If I'd wanted attention, I would have shot myself in the damn foot!'"
   Stanton has never believed it was an open-and-shut case. "When the chief of police and his detectives say this is black and white, there are no shades of gray -- and my son is laying there telling me, 'Mom, I didn't do this' -- then I don't care what kind of police officer you are. I'm going to believe my son over you.
   "I was close enough with my son to believe that if he was contemplating suicide, he would have called and talked to me or he would have mailed me a letter," she said.
   After his death, Stanton pleaded with the Commonwealth attorney to reopen the case. She could not hire a Tennessee attorney, because it was a Commonwealth of Virginia matter. Also, she could not hire a Virginia attorney "because I would have to gather evidence and bring them evidence, and I could not do that when I was denied access to a police report. The detectives that are working on the case now did not even have the original police report until this past year," Stanton said.
   No evidence was obtained from the home Chas shared with his girlfriend because it was not a crime scene, Stanton said. The house had been cleaned out about two weeks after Chas was admitted to the hospital.
   "I got one box of things: His dad's field jacket, Chas's dirty work boots, and his notebook -- my son wrote poetry and drew pictures. I got that late in June. It was brought to the police department and left for me to come to the police department to pick up," she said.
   Though Chas said he did not shoot himself, he never did tell his mother who did. "From a mom's perspective, because he and I were so close, he was either trying to protect me to keep me from knowing who did it -- to keep me from going off the deep end and doing something I would regret -- or to protect the other person from me. I don't know," she said.
   Investigator Brezee said a combination of factors led detectives to believe that Chas did not attempt suicide: "the written statements that were taken from the person that was there and the other person who showed up later; and then some statements that we obtained from certain medical people that didn't quite fit with what the original story was," he said.
   While an autopsy was not performed, investigators still have accumulated more than 4,000 pages of information for their files.
   "It's been a struggle," Brezee said. "It's getting down to scientific and physical stuff, and that's still being developed and worked on. You can't hurry these experts.
   "I'd like to tell you we'd make an arrest tomorrow, but I can't, because that's not true. ... We're not close enough to arrest anybody yet, but we're getting there," he said.