A 67-year-old Lignum man was convicted Friday in last summer’s broad-daylight shooting on South Main Street in downtown Culpeper.
Robert Lee Cottoms Jr. pleaded guilty Friday to unlawful wounding and possession of a gun by a nonviolent felon in the June 29, 2018, altercation outside the 7-Eleven store at Main and Scanlon streets. The charges against him were reduced by arrangement with prosecutors.
Susan L. Whitlock, presiding judge of the Culpeper County Circuit Court, accepted Cottom’s pleas on the two changes and sentenced him to 10 years in prison, with all but three years suspended. She granted him credit for time already served, and put him on 10 years’ probation.
Five years in prison and a $2,500 fine per charge was the maximum punishment the judge could have imposed.
First, Whitlock reviewed the charges against Cottoms, plus signed statements and a sentencing memorandum, with the prosecution and the defense.
She asked the defendant a detailed set of questions, looking directly at him each time, to determine if he was satisfied with his defense counsel, was voluntarily giving up his right to a jury trial, and was entering his guilty pleas free of any coercion.
Brought from jail in handcuffs and leg shackles, Cottoms appeared at Friday’s plea hearing alongside defense attorney Dickson J. Young of Fairfax. Cottoms answered all of Whitlock’s questions in a soft, low voice, his head bowed as he read papers held by Young.
Rising from his chair to be sentenced, Cottoms apologized for his actions and expressed regret that he had “put my family through this.”
Eleven supporters and family members, including Cottoms’ granddaughter, sat silently in the pews behind he and Young to observe the proceedings.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Walther told the court that he had tried to achieve justice and fairness in the case.
Shooting victim Simon Gatling was content with the plea arrangement, the prosecutor said. He didn’t want to see Cottoms wind up in prison for the rest of his life, given his age, Walthers told the court.
Cottoms, who has been jailed without bond, was accused of shooting Gatling in the street about 2 p.m. June 29.
That morning, according to Gatling, he and Cottoms had argued over the phone about the return of his son’s car seat and Gatling’s relationship with the boy’s mother.
Gatling said he had known Cottoms for nearly 30 years and that he was his son’s godfather. The two men operated local tree-service businesses and had often worked together.
Gatling and Cottoms had argued and fought on other occasions, Walthers told Judge Whitlock.
In earlier court proceedings, town police testified that Cottoms was in a vehicle on Main Street when he stepped out and approached Gatling. The two men argued and two shots were fired from a .38-caliber handgun.
One bullet struck Gatling in the right side of his chest, police said. The bullet hit his lung and shattered three ribs before exiting his right side.
Gatling was treated at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville and released a few days later.
Cottoms told police he shot Gatling twice, court records state.
A small amount of DNA, not suitable for laboratory analysis, was found on the gun, court records state.
In March, prosecutors amended two charges against Cottoms to less serious ones, and dismissed two other charges.
The unlawful wounding charge was lessened from an original charge of malicious wounding. Possession of a gun by a nonviolent felon was changed from an original charge of possession of a gun by a violent felon.
An assault charge and a bail-violation charge were dismissed.