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Charlottesville man's sentence reduced in unusual move
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Charlottesville man's sentence reduced in unusual move

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has reduced the sentence of a Charlottesville man convicted of killing his mother following requests from his family.

In January, Maurice Robert Jackson received a sentence of four and a half years for voluntary manslaughter in the death of his mother, Barbara Cotton. In an unusual move, the sentence imposed by Judge Claude Worrell exceeded what both the defense and commonwealth requested.

Though initially charged with second degree murder and two counts of assault and battery against a police officer, Jackson accepted an agreement in September to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and one count of assault and battery against a police officer.

During his sentencing hearing, Jackson testified that he had been staying with Cotton following his divorce and was helping her as she battled cancer. It was during this time that he developed a drinking problem, which led to altercations between him and his mother, who was concerned his drinking would cause him to be unable to take her to the hospital if the need arose.

On the night of Nov. 13, 2019, Jackson and his mother got in an argument about his drinking. As his mother stood in front of the refrigerator, Jackson, who was highly intoxicated, said he “nudged” her out of the way. Cotton, whose cancer had made her bones brittle, hit the corner of a counter hard enough to be injured, Jackson said during his testimony.

After dialing 911, an intoxicated Jackson was separated from his mother by police and got into a tussle with an officer when they would not let him see his mother. Cotton died from the injuries she suffered two weeks later on Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving.

Both the defense and the commonwealth recommended a sentence on the low end of the guidelines — about three years — citing the complicated and tragic nature of the incident.

However, Worrell sentenced Jackson to four years and six months, citing in part a letter from one of Cotton’s relatives.

In February, Jackson’s attorneys filed a motion to reconsider the sentence, citing a portion of state code that allows a court to modify sentences.

For Liz Murtagh, who manages the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Defender Office and worked on Jackson’s case, the move was unusual — something she had never seen in her decades-long career.

“The only way that you really could file a motion to reconsider is if there was some new evidence that has come up that you didn’t have before — there has to be a change in circumstances,” she said. “But what happened in Mr. Jackson’s case is that his mom’s side of the family reached out to us and the prosecutor’s office and were interested in doing something different.”

Late last month, Worrell granted the motion to reconsider, taking a year off of Jackson’s voluntary manslaughter charge, bringing his total sentence down to three years and six months.

Though Worrell did not outline his reasoning for the reduction, Murtagh said she suspects the unique and tragic nature of the crime may have influenced the decision.

“Everybody agreed it was tragic and there was just heartfelt sympathy for everybody involved with the case,” she said. “This is something Mr. Jackson will have to live with for the rest of his life and I think this reduction is recognition of that.”

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