Court filing raises questions about conduct of Roanoke judge

Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 7:58 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A recent filing in a Roanoke murder case raises questions about the conduct of a circuit court judge in the city.

The mother of a man who was convicted of the 2018 homicide says Judge Onzlee Ware offered to help her with her son’s case in exchange for a sexual relationship.

Ware was not the judge who presided in the case of Timothy Church, but in a court filing first reported by the Roanoke Times, the defendant’s mother said Ware offered to help her son and gave her advice he said would lead to a sentence of less than seven years.

She said she agreed to a sexual relationship because she was desperate to save her son.

The case started with a murder on Melrose Avenue in January 2018. Timothy Church was convicted of first-degree murder for the beating death of Ish Patel, the owner of the Starlite Motel.

He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

He appealed, citing ineffective counsel, saying his attorney at trial did not introduce evidence about his mental state. And a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed in late August contends Judge Ware convinced Church’s mother that her son should replace his attorney and give up his right to a jury trial.

The document claims Grace Church met Ware before her son’s trial, when he was Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge, and that they started a romantic relationship in exchange for his intervention in her son’s case.

Ware served as a member of the Virginia General Assembly from January 2004 to January 2014. He was sworn in as a juvenile court judge in September 2014, and was elected to the circuit court bench by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020.

The petition requests the release of communications between Judge Ware, the defendant’s mother, the judge who heard the case and another attorney.

Judge Ware had a full court schedule Thursday. We reached out to his office for comment, but had not received a response Thursday evening.