Judge Has Parenting Advice for Defendant

WHEELING – After sentencing Christian Hill to two to 10 years in prison Monday for having a loaded firearm in the car in which he was traveling with his infant child and her mother, Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone offered the 26-year-old some parenting advice.

An Ohio County grand jury indicted Hill in May on first-degree robbery and kidnapping charges. After months of plea talks between the defense and prosecution, parties recently agreed to dismiss the robbery and kidnapping charges in exchange for Hill’s guilty plea Monday to two counts of wanton endangerment involving a firearm.

“Mr. Hill, I hope you understand you’ve received the benefit of a very favorable plea agreement,” Mazzone said. “Your attorneys were able to negotiate on your behalf with the state of West Virginia. The court has no prerogative in telling the state what charges to prosecute and what charges not to prosecute; that’s the state’s call. You’re the beneficiary of that decision today.”

Hill’s attorney, Robert McCoid, said he believed his client’s case was defensible but noted that pleading guilty Monday was in Hill’s best interest, considering the potential prison term.

“In light of the exposure, sentencing wise, that Mr. Hill faces … we’ve engaged in a risk-benefit analysis and have concluded that it’s in his best interest to resolve the case along these lines than it is to proceed to trial – given that he’s looking at a potential life sentence,” McCoid said.

Police said Hill robbed the mother of his child, Rachael Verdula, at gunpoint in April to recover his tax return, which was electronically deposited into her account as payment for owed child support. Hill reportedly flashed a handgun that day and ordered Verdula to drive to a nearby bank and withdraw the funds. Verdula drove Hill, as well as their child and Verdula’s other child, to a bank under the threat of the gun and withdrew $240 from her account.

On Monday, Ohio County Assistant Prosecutor Gail Kahle did not mention the alleged robbery or the tax return, but said Hill acted recklessly by having the gun in the car and created a great risk to his daughter and her mother.

Mazzone, however, took the opportunity to comment on Hill’s role as a father.

“When an adult makes a decision to bring a child into the world, you don’t have a choice on whether to take care of that child,” the judge told Hill. “It’s an obligation. You have to take care of the child, and that obligation should not serve as the basis for any criminal conduct.”