The full Virginia Court of Appeals will review a life sentenced imposed by a Loudoun Circuit Court judge in a 2015 aggravated malicious wounding case.
In 2020, Judge James P. Fisher handed down the sentence on Bradford Thomas Cellucci, who was charged with attacking an 18-year-old worker at a Leesburg Premium Outlets store with a hammer, leaving the victim paralyzed. Cellucci, now 30, entered an Alford Plea in which he did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the commonwealth would present enough evidence to secure a conviction against him.
The state’s sentencing guidelines recommended a range between five years and eight months and 12 years and eight months of incarceration. County prosecutors argued for a sentence of up to 35 years in prison. In handing down the statutory maximum sentence of life in prison and a $100,00 fine, Fisher said Cellucci’s crime was a “blow to civil society” and his paralyzed victim had been dealt a “sentence that he’ll never escape.”
In May, a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court ordered the case to be reversed and remanded to the Circuit Court for resentencing. That was a split ruling with Chief Judge Marla Graff Decker dissenting. This week, that order was placed on hold as the full Appeals Court agreed to review the case.
In the majority opinion by Judge Daniel Ortiz, the hearing panel found that Fisher did not adequately apply mitigating factors, including Cellucci’s lack of criminal history and “substantial capacity for rehabilitation.” During sentencing hearing, testimony indicated Cellucci met the criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and was involved with substance abuse at the time of the crime.
“A trial court’s decision to modify a sentence after a horrific crime is a weighty matter. The decision’s solemn and case-specific nature often requires an appellate court to defer to the lower court’s judgment. Yet, 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 under Code § 19.2-303. In these rare circumstances, an appellate court must reverse for the trial court’s abuse of discretion,” Ortiz wrote. In a footnote, he suggested the case should be reviewed by a different judge because of “the deeply personal nature of sentencing and the concerns about the appearance of fairness.”
In her dissent, Decker found no fault with Fisher’s actions.
“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,’” she wrote. “This concept is not new. In fact, it is well established in Virginia law.”
The case surrounds incidents that took place on July 28, 2015, when Cellucci entered the Ralph Lauren at the Leesburg Premium Outlets and walked around the store for about 15 minutes before the victim, Bryan Pedroza, asked him if he needed any help. Cellucci asked to be taken to a fitting room where he struck Pedroza in the back of the neck with the claw of a hammer and severing his spine.
Pedroza had previously dated Cellucci’s girlfriend and Cellucci said he believed that he sexually assaulted his girlfriend during that time.
Cellucci then fled the area, moving to Texas and getting married. He was arrested in 2018 in Georgia after DNA obtained from the hammer, which was left at the scene, linked him to the crime.