Full Virginia appeals court to review life sentence in Loudoun Co. hammer attack

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated to clarify the appeals panel’s reversal is stayed, pending an en banc hearing by a full appeals court.

Virginia’s full Court of Appeals will reconsider a three-judge panel’s decision to reverse the life sentence of Bradford Cellucci, who’s accused of attacking a Leesburg, Virginia, retail worker with a hammer in 2015.

In May, a three-judge panel of Virginia’s Court of Appeals reversed the life sentence imposed by Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Fisher in August 2020 after the now 30-year-old Cellucci entered an Alford plea.

This week, the Court of Appeals placed the panel’s reversal on hold and granted a request from the Attorney General of Virginia for a rehearing en banc — meaning the full court will consider whether the judge erred in granting the life sentence to Cellucci.

Prosecutors say in 2015, Cellucci attacked Bryan Pedroza, who was 18 at the time, with a claw hammer, at the Ralph Lauren Polo store in the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets. As a result, Pedroza was paralyzed from the waist down.

At trial, Cellucci’s attorney argued his client had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, had no criminal history, and had demonstrated his ability to be rehabilitated.

Fisher sentenced Cellucci to life in prison and a $100,000 fine, despite the sentencing guidelines recommending a range between five years and eight months and 12 years and eight months of incarceration.

“The circuit court deviated up from the sentencing guidelines because it felt the guidelines insufficiently addressed the grievousness of Pedroza’s injury and Cellucci’s ‘level of planning/premeditation,'” according to the appeals panel’s ruling.

The appeals panel ruled Fisher erred by focusing only on autism and substance abuse, and failed to consider all relevant factors in declining to modify his initial sentence.

“The circuit court overlooked Cellucci’s lack of criminal history, both before and after the crime, ability to be rehabilitated, and age as mitigating circumstances,” wrote the panel. “This Court cannot turn a blind eye to a trial court’s erroneous legal conclusions and failure to consider all relevant factors when deciding whether to modify a sentence.”

In reversing and remanding Fisher’s ruling, the appeals panel suggested the circuit court assign the case to another judge.

“Because of the circuit court’s necessary involvement with this case’s facts, it may have difficulty reconsidering its own decision that no mitigating circumstances existed, despite the clear record in this case,” according to the panel’s opinion by Judge Daniel Ortiz.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Judge Marla Griff Decker said Fisher’s initial ruling was within his discretion: “The Supreme Court of Virginia has made clear that ‘when a statute prescribes a maximum imprisonment penalty and the sentence does not exceed that maximum, the sentence will not be overturned as being an abuse of discretion.'”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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