A Hanover County judge has thrown out a first-degree murder charge against a Mechanicsville woman charged in a fatal shooting in a Walmart parking lot in February.
General District Judge Hugh S. Campbell ruled at a hearing Wednesday that he would not certify the murder charge against 25-year-old Brittany Lashea Wiggins.
The judge also ruled against sending a related firearms charge to a June 20 grand jury. The judge did, however, find there was probable cause to support a third charge, maliciously shooting at a vehicle.
“Those charges have been dismissed and, at this point, it’s gone,” Joe Morrissey, Wiggins’ attorney, said outside the courthouse regarding the murder and firearms charges.
Wiggins was charged in the Feb. 18 killing of Ashley Fricke, a 25-year-old Caroline County woman, at the Walmart at 145 Hill Carter Parkway in Ashland.
Morrissey said Wiggins fired a gun after a verbal altercation with two boys who were in a pickup truck parked next to Fricke’s vehicle at the time of the shooting.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Morrissey said his client had repeatedly told the investigating detective that she was scared during the incident, which happened about 11 p.m. after Wiggins had left Walmart.
Morrissey has said Wiggins fired a warning shot to scare off the boys, but it hit Fricke.
“It was an accident. It was a tragic killing. There was no premeditation,” Morrissey said at Wednesday’s hearing.
Adam Aigner, an investigator with the Ashland Police Department, said at the hearing that Wiggins drove out of the parking lot at a high speed after the shooting.
Aigner said the boys told him that they had been yelling at Wiggins, who was yelling back at them. The investigator also said Wiggins told him that, at one point, the boys hopped out of their truck “like they were going to do something.”
Aigner said Wiggins told him she didn’t remember what the boys were saying and that she also said she didn’t see the boys with any guns.
Morrissey has said his client, who is gay, was subjected to homophobic slurs during the altercation, but Aigner said he has not confirmed that was case.
Mackenzie Babichenko, an assistant Hanover commonwealth’s attorney, cast doubt on whether fear drove Wiggins to fire the fatal shot. The prosecutor said that during the confrontation, Wiggins didn’t try to immediately leave the parking lot. Instead, Wiggins sat in her car for about three minutes, Babichenko said.
“She’s so scared, she doesn’t leave,” Babichenko said.
The distance between Wiggins’ car and the pickup truck was about 80 feet, the prosecutor said. If Wiggins were truly scared, she had other options other than firing off the fatal shot, Babichenko said.
“All she had to do is drive away,” the prosecutor said.
Instead, Wiggins chose to stop her car on her way out of the parking lot and point the gun out the window before firing the fatal shot in the direction of the two boys, Babichenko said.
Fricke was in a vehicle between the two boys and Wiggins, Babichenko said.
The prosecutor said Wiggins “wasn’t scared; she was upset.”
Wiggins’ departure from the scene at a high speed, the prosecutor said, amounted to evidence of a guilty conscience.
But Morrissey, who said his client didn’t know the woman who was shot, noted that his client turned herself in to police minutes after seeing media coverage of the shooting on newscasts the day after the incident.
Wiggins, a graduate of Lee-Davis High School, did not speak during Wednesday’s hearing. She was released on a $50,000 bond last month.
Outside the courthouse, Morrissey said that even though the murder charge was dismissed, prosecutors could choose to bring a different charge, such as manslaughter.
R.E. “Trip” Chalkley III, the Hanover commonwealth’s attorney, declined to comment on what steps prosecutors would take next, saying he doesn’t comment on pending cases.