Patterson had only met Joyce Aldridge in passing while partying with
one of her daughters.
Shortly before midnight on October 11, 1987, Patterson, who had been
drinking and using cocaine, broke into the Aldridge house to rob her
to buy more drugs.
In a videotaped confession, he said that when he discovered she had
only a handful of coins in her purse, he became enraged and decided
to rape her. He then decided to kill her so there would be no
Using one of Aldridge's kitchen knives, he stabbed her 3 times in
the abdomen and left her to die. Joyce was able to make it to the
phone to call the police and when she attempted to call her son,
Patterson returned and fatally stabbed her 14 more times and fled
Patterson was serving a 25 year sentence for Rape, when the DNA from
the 11 year old Aldridge case was submitted for comparison against
the inmate database.
DNA showed a match with Patterson, who confessed, pled guilty, and
asked the judge to give him the death penalty. This "cold hit" DNA
match was reported to be the first which resulted in an execution.
Patterson v. Com., 551 S.E.2d 332 (Va. 2001) (Direct Appeal).
Five cheese turkey burgers with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and
mustard, French fries (lots of mayo and ketchup on the side), a
tossed salad with French dressing, cooked apples and sweet tea.
"I want it to be known that my heart goes out to the Aldridge family
and all that I put them through. I pray that they (the families)
will all find God as I have found him. I am at peace now and ready
to meet my maker. God bless each and every one of you who is here
Virginians for Alternatives to
the Death Penalty
James Earl Patterson confessed and pleaded guilty
to rape, capital murder, and abduction with intent to defile in the
1987 rape and murder of Joyce Snead Aldridge. At the time of his
confession, Patterson was serving a twenty-five year sentence in
Greenville for raping an 18 year-old Hopewell woman.
Patterson met Aldridge through her daughter, with
whom he was partying. The defendant went to Aldridge’s house in
order to rob her so he could purchase drugs. The victim, however,
had little money, and Patterson became angry.
Aldridge and then stabbed her with a kitchen knife three times in
the abdomen. He claimed that he wanted to kill the victim in order
to minimize the evidence against him.
After Patterson departed,
Aldridge was able to call the police and then she attempted to reach
her son through a telephone operator.
The call was not successful
because Aldridge was using the incorrect phone number. While
Aldridge was attempting to call for a second time, Patterson
returned and fatally stabbed her fourteen times.
that he had consumed one liter of alcohol and one-eighth of an ounce
of cocaine on the night of the killing. The defendant said that
while fleeing the crime scene he was temporarily in view of the
police but he escaped in his car parked nearby.
Patterson became a suspect in the Aldridge murder
in March 1999, when DNA evidence taken from the crime scene was
matched to Patterson’s blood. State law required blood samples of
Patterson pleaded guilty against the
recommendation of his attorney. Even Patterson’s fervent religiosity
could not convince him that he deserved to live.
County Circuit Judge James F. D’Alton Jr. said that he granted
Patterson’s request for the death sentence because of the vileness
of the crime and the threat that Patterson would commit future
offenses. At sentencing, Patterson told Judge D’Alton, “I pray today
that it will be some type of closure for these families.”
Patterson has been on death row since June 15,
Virginia Governor Gilmore Press
Statement by Governor Gilmore Regarding the
Execution of James Earl Patterson:
RICHMOND — Governor Mark R. Warner tonight issued
the following statement on the scheduled execution of James Earl
Patterson by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“Mr. Patterson was convicted with the assistance
of DNA evidence of the capital murder of Joyce Aldridge in the
commission of rape, abduction with the intent to defile, and
He was found to be competent to assist in his own
defense by two separate psychiatric evaluations prior to entering a
plea of guilty. “I have not been asked to intervene in the case of
James Earl Patterson, there are no legal challenges to this
scheduled execution, and accordingly, I decline to intervene.”
James Earl Patterson said he wants to die for the
brutal rape and murder of a 56-year-old Prince George woman in 1987.
"As I look around this courtroom, I see lives that I've wrecked. To
say I'm sorry to these people is a hollow statement," he said in a
crowded courtroom just before sentencing yesterday in the death of
Joyce Snead Aldridge. "These families were touched by me because, in
some instances, they befriended me. In befriending me, it turned
into their worst nightmare," he said calmly.
Patterson said he couldn't promise that, if given
a life sentence, he would not ruin more lives. "Your honor, I've
thought about the death sentence, and I beg you to give me the death
sentence," he said with tears in his eyes. "I pray today that it
will be some type of closure for these families. I'm deeply sorry. .
. . I just pray the Lord touches their lives and take away the pain
I brought upon them."
Prince George Circuit Judge James F. D'Alton
Jr. said the death penalty was not something the court could impose
just because Patterson asked for it. But because of the vileness of
the crime and the possibility of future dangerousness, he did impose
the sentence. Judge D'Alton said the crime was especially vile.
Patterson, then 20, didn't know Aldridge, but had
met her in passing while partying with one of her daughters. Shortly
before midnight, on Oct. 11, 1987, Patterson, who had been drinking
and using cocaine, broke into the woman's house to rob her to buy
In a videotaped confession, he said that, when he
discovered she had only a handful of coins in her purse, he became
enraged and decided to rape her. He decided to kill her so there
would be no witnesses, he said. Using one of Aldridge's kitchen
knives, he stabbed her 3 times in the abdomen and left her to die.
Joyce was able to make it to the phone to call the police and then
she attempted to reach her son through the telephone operator but
was using the wrong number. While she was attempting to make the
call a second time, Patterson returned and fatally stabbed Joyce 14
more times and fled the scene.
Police arrived as he was leaving, he
said, but he was able to flee to his car, which was parked about a
The murder remained unsolved for the next 11
years. Patterson has a lengthy, violent criminal record. He was
serving a 25-year sentence for raping an 18-year-old girl when he
was indicted for murder.
Evidence from the rape was re-submitted to the
Virginia Division of Forensic Science for DNA analysis, which
concluded his DNA matched evidence in the Aldridge killing.
Attorney R. Clinton Clary Jr. said Patterson
asked that no evidence be presented on his behalf. Clary said that,
even though he disagreed with his client's request, he respected it.
Garrison E. Aldridge said his family has been wondered for many
years who did this to their mother, and why. "The only thing we've
been able to put together and come up with is, this is senseless."
His sister, Karen Aldridge Bornstein, said the
family's prayers have been answered, but now they have to deal with
the hurt, anger and grief all over again. "The feelings of
loneliness and emptiness have never gone away," she said. "There are
feelings that are too difficult to express into words, but they're
in our hearts."
Patterson was also sentenced to life for each of the
remaining 3 charges of rape, abduction and forcible sodomy. He
thanked the judge after the sentence was imposed, and gave a quick
smile and nod to his family as he was led from the courtroom.
UPDATE: Last statement from Patterson: "My heart
goes out to the Aldridge family,'' Patterson said. ''...God bless
each and every one of you who is here tonight.'' Patterson said last
week in a telephone interview from death row, "The penalty fit the
crime. I was responsible and I want to pay the ultimate price.''
Killer Found Through Search of DNA Database
By Maria Sanminiatelli -
Hampton Roads Daily Press
March 15, 2002
JARRATT, Va. -- James Earl Patterson apologized
for "the evil I brought into this world" minutes before becoming the
first person in the nation executed based on a DNA "cold hit."
Patterson, 35, filed no last-minute appeals of his conviction for
the 1987 rape and fatal stabbing of Joyce S. Aldridge, 56, in her
Prince George County home, and begged her relatives for forgiveness
before he was put to death Thursday night. "My heart goes out to the
Aldridge family and all that I put them through," he said. "I pray
they will all find God as I have found him."
After he was strapped down to the gurney,
Patterson lifted his head and stared intently into the witness box,
appearing to give a small nod in the direction of his spiritual
adviser. "I am at peace now and ready to meet my maker," Patterson
"May God bless each and everyone who is here tonight and each
one who hears this." He then rested his head on the gurney as the
lethal chemicals began flowing into his thick arms. Patterson was
pronounced dead at 9:10 p.m. EST at the Greensville Correctional
Members of the victim's family witnessed the
execution from a separate room. Department of Corrections spokesman
Larry Traylor would not identify them or say how many family members
were there. Patterson's mother, father, sister, brother and two
daughters visited him earlier in the day, Traylor said. There were
no protesters outside the prison.
Patterson was imprisoned for nearly 14 years and
would have been released in 2004 without the cold hit. He was
implicated in the murder when the state compared DNA samples from
the crime with DNA samples in its database of 175,000 felons.
"cold hit" matched the DNA of Patterson, who was in prison for
another rape. After the 1999 match, Patterson confessed and pleaded
guilty to sexually assaulting and killing Aldridge on Oct. 11, 1987.
He told investigators that he forced his way into her home to steal
money to buy drugs but became enraged when he learned she only had
coins in her purse. He raped her and stabbed her 17 times. "The
penalty fit the crime," Patterson said last week in a telephone
interview from death row. "I was responsible and I want to pay the
Of the 37 other states with the death penalty, no
executions have been based on a cold hit, an Associated Press survey
found. Virginia became the first state to execute a person whose
conviction was based on DNA evidence when Timothy W. Spencer went to
the electric chair in 1993 for a series of stranglings in Richmond
and Arlington. The execution is the first in Virginia this year and
the 84th in the state since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death
penalty to be reinstated in 1976.
Virginia Killer Executed in Landmark DNA Case
Inmate Is First in U.S. Put to Death After Genetic
By Brooke A. Masters -
The Washington Post
Friday, March 15, 2002
James Earl Patterson, a Virginia killer who asked
his lawyers not to appeal or request clemency, last night became the
first inmate in the country to be executed based on evidence sent
blindly to a state's criminal DNA database. Patterson, 35, died by
lethal injection at 9:10 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center
in Jarratt. It was Virginia's first execution since October and the
84th since capital punishment was restored in the state.
Patterson pleaded guilty to capital murder in
2000, after Prince George County investigators entered evidence from
the 1987 rape and murder of Joyce S. Aldridge into Virginia's DNA
They got a "cold hit" with Patterson's genetic material,
whose DNA was added to the database in 1990 or 1991, while he served
a 25-year sentence for a 1988 rape in Sussex. He would have been
released in 2005 or sooner had the DNA not matched. "It always
played out in the back of my mind that [the evidence] could be put
together . . . that it could come back to haunt me," Patterson said
in an interview Wednesday.
In prison, Patterson said, he became a religious
Christian, and he deeply regrets his violent past. "The crimes
really tear at my heart," he said. "My prayers constantly go out to
the family members of the victims." The family of Aldridge, who was
56 when she was killed, declined an interview request made through
the Virginia attorney general's office.
Virginia has long been a leader in the use of
genetic material to solve crimes. The 1994 execution of Timothy W.
Spencer was the first in the nation involving a killer convicted on
the basis of DNA evidence, and the state's DNA database of nearly
177,000 convicted felons is one of the largest and oldest in the
As of this week, Virginia investigators had recorded 683
hits in the database, including more than 300 last year and 92 this
year, said Robin D. Porter, deputy director of the Virginia Division
of Forensic Science. The General Assembly this year passed a bill to
extend the sampling to include people charged with violent felonies,
rather than waiting until possible convictions.
DNA also has been
used to clear six Virginia men convicted of crimes they did not
commit -- most recently Marvin L. Anderson, who spent 15 years in
prison for a 1982 rape. When he requested post-conviction DNA
testing last year under a new Virginia law, the genetic material
from the crime scene not only ruled him out but partially matched
two other felons in the database.
Patterson, who got to know Anderson when both
were incarcerated at the Southampton Correctional Center in Capron,
Va., said both cases demonstrate the benefits of DNA. "I applaud the
science," Patterson said. "It's become a good thing. It has
condemned people who needed to be condemned and released people who
needed to be released. "I worked beside Marvin Anderson for seven
years, and I believed him," he added. "When I saw [his exoneration]
on the news, I couldn't help but jump for joy and praise the Lord."
Patterson was 20 when he killed Aldridge, whom he
had met briefly through one of her grown daughters. According to
court documents, he told investigators that he forced his way into
her home to steal money to buy drugs but became enraged when he
learned she had only coins in her purse. He raped her and stabbed
her 17 times. A year later, he raped a woman who had given him a
ride home from a party and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
"My particular vice was drugs and drinking and
violence," he said. "It's been a learning experience, the last 14
years of incarceration. I've grown and come to know the Lord."
Despite his conversion and his interest in DNA, Patterson said he
was still shocked and frightened when investigators came to see him.
"When I saw the [police] badges come out, it literally took my
breath away. The day of judgment had met me," he said.
He initially denied killing Aldridge but
eventually admitted the crime, pleaded guilty and asked to be
sentenced to death. On Wednesday, Patterson, a father of two girls,
said he felt comfortable with his decision not to fight his
execution. "I feel at peace with my decision. It's either going slow
or dying quickly. I'm ready to go," he said. "I could be running my
head against the wall, bawling my eyes out, but it's not that way.
I'm getting ready for the big transformation."
JAMES EARL PATTERSON
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Record No. 001798
September 14, 2001
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF PRINCE
James F. D'Alton, Jr., Judge
OPINION BY JUSTICE ELIZABETH B. LACY
James Earl Patterson received a death sentence upon a plea of guilty
to a charge of capital murder in the commission of a rape, Code
18.2-31(5), in the death of Joyce Sneed Aldridge.
Although Patterson has waived his right of appeal, Code 17.1-313
mandates that we review the imposition of the death sentence.
We must consider and determine whether the sentence of death was
imposed "under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other
arbitrary factor," and whether the sentence is "excessive or
disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases,
considering both the crime and the defendant." Code
17.1-313(C)(1) and (C)(2).
On October 11, 1987, the Prince George County Police Department
received a telephone call at approximately 11:35 p.m. from a person
identifying herself as Joyce Aldridge. Ms. Aldridge stated
that she had been raped and stabbed. When the police arrived
at Ms. Aldridge's home, they found the front door ajar and a screen
"knocked out" of the bathroom window at the rear of the house.
The officers announced themselves and, when there
was no reply, they entered the house. They found Ms.
Aldridge's partially clothed body on the floor of the bathroom.
Her dress had been ripped from the neck, and cloth ligatures, cut
from bedding in the room, remained tied to her right wrist.
She had been stabbed multiple times and could not be resuscitated by
the emergency medical crew.
The police discovered signs of a struggle in the
kitchen of the home with a chair knocked over, a drawer containing
knives left open, and Ms. Aldridge's eyeglasses on the floor.
The door to Ms. Aldridge's bedroom had been kicked open and
footprints were found on the door. Footprints of the same type
were found in the blood on the floor of the bedroom.
The contents of Ms. Aldridge's purse had been
dumped on the floor, dresser drawers were open and ransacked, and
the nightstand had been knocked over. There was a large amount
of blood on the bed and pillows and "[c]ast-off" blood spatters were
on the wall next to the bathroom.
The telephone cord had been pulled from the wall
and the doorknob to the bathroom door had been pulled off the door.
Ms. Aldridge's blood was found on the telephone, the bathroom
doorknob, and the latch on the window screen found in the backyard.
These conditions indicated that she had attempted to flee her
attacker by escaping through the window in the bathroom.
The medical examiner found seventeen stab wounds. Eight of the
wounds were to Ms. Aldridge's neck, four to her upper back, one in
her chest and several clustered in her abdominal area. The
wounds ranged in depth from two to six inches. Two stab wounds
to her aorta were fatal. The medical examiner also found a
number of defensive wounds.
Seminal fluid was
recovered from the victim's rectum and vagina and a semen stain was
found on the bed. This evidence was preserved for testing.
However, the perpetrator of the crime was not identified until over
ten years later, when in 1998, the evidence was resubmitted to the
Virginia DNA Laboratory.
The subsequent testing yielded a "cold hit" - a
match with a DNA profile maintained by the Virginia DNA Data Bank.
The tested DNA matched that of James Earl Patterson who was serving
a twenty-five year sentence at the Greensville Correctional Center
for a rape unrelated to the rape of Ms. Aldridge.
The police obtained a search warrant for a fresh sample of
Patterson's blood and additional testing confirmed that the DNA
material found at Ms. Aldridge's house and that of the defendant
were consistent. The probability of finding someone else with
the same DNA profile was less than 1 in 5.5 billion. When
confronted with this information by the police, Patterson denied
knowing Ms. Aldridge or ever being in her house.
In March 2000, Patterson agreed to discuss the crime with one of the
police officers who had been involved in the Aldridge investigation
if an agreement could be reached regarding his ability to see his
family at the prison. After the family visit was arranged,
Patterson confessed to raping and murdering Ms. Aldridge.
Patterson said he knew Ms. Aldridge and went to her home on October
11, 1987 to steal money for drugs.
He had planned to enter through a basement window
but the window was locked. While he was looking for a utility
knife he had dropped in the yard, Ms. Aldridge let her dog out in
the yard. Patterson went to the door and asked Ms. Aldridge if
he could borrow a flashlight on the pretext of needing it to search
for lost car keys.
When Ms. Aldridge opened the door, he forced his
way into the house, kicked the door shut and demanded her pocketbook.
He pushed her to the bedroom to get the purse. When the purse
contained only coins, Patterson became "even more violent."
After tying her hands behind her back with strips cut from the bed
linen, he raped her.
Patterson went to the kitchen
looking for a knife because he "wasn't going to leave any witnesses
behind." He found a knife and stabbed Ms. Aldridge three times
in the abdomen.
Patterson went back outside to
find the lost utility knife, but reentered the house to make sure "she's
gone." He kicked in the bedroom door which was shut and saw a
telephone cord leading to the bathroom. He forced the bathroom
door open and Ms. Aldridge came out. Patterson "hit her with
the knife 4 or 5 times." After she "went down the wall," he
left by way of the front door.
Prior to the entry
of the guilty pleas, Patterson was examined by two psychologists,
both of whom determined that Patterson was competent to tender a
guilty plea and to make his own decisions in the case. Against
the advice of counsel, Patterson entered the guilty plea. The
trial court found Patterson guilty of capital murder and ordered a
At the sentencing hearing,
the Commonwealth asserted that the killing of Ms. Aldridge was vile
in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, and aggravated
battery. In support of this contention, the Commonwealth
relied on the testimony given at the guilt phase, that the victim
did not die instantaneously, that the knife attack was carried out
in a "savage[,] methodical manner," and that many more stab wounds
were inflicted than necessary to accomplish the murder of the victim.
Chabrol v. Commonwealth, 245 Va. 327, 335, 427 S.E.2d 374, 378
(1993); Hoke v. Commonwealth, 237 Va. 303, 316, 377 S.E.2d 595, 603,
cert. denied, 491 U.S. 910 (1989).
Commonwealth also asserted that Patterson would be a future danger
to society. In support of this position, the Commonwealth
presented evidence of felony convictions for rape and grand larceny
based on a 1988 incident in which Patterson asked two women for a
ride home from a party. When the driver exited the car,
Patterson shoved her to the ground, got back in the car, and broke
the handle of the passenger door to trap the other woman in the car.
Patterson "punched" the passenger in the face,
drove the car to another location, and then raped her.
According to the Commonwealth, these crimes, committed after the
rape and murder of Ms. Aldridge, along with the defendant's
extensive juvenile record and fourteen instances of institutional
offenses, including fighting, assault, and possession of drugs and
intoxicants, support the conclusion that Patterson is a continuing
danger to society.
Patterson refused to present
evidence in mitigation of his sentence and instructed his attorney
not to do so. In exercising his right of elocution, Patterson
expressed his sorrow and remorse for his actions and requested a
sentence of death, stating that if he received a life sentence he
could not promise that "sometime that I may not spark out and ruin
more lives." In imposing the death sentence, the trial court
found that the aggravating factors of vileness in the commission of
the crime and of future dangerousness to society were both supported
by the evidence.
Pursuant to Code 17.1-313(C),
we must consider "any errors in the trial enumerated by appeal" in
any case where a sentence of death is imposed. Accordingly,
the trial court is required to forward the trial record of such a
case to this Court where an appeal of right will be heard.
Code 17.1-313(B). On October 16, 2000, Patterson through
counsel filed a Motion Not to Pursue Appeal with this Court.
By order dated November 15, 2000, this Court ordered the matter
returned to the trial court for a determination whether Patterson's
decision not to appeal was made voluntarily and intelligently.
At a competency hearing held on January 4, 2001 in accordance with
this Court's order, Patterson signed a waiver under oath, stating he
did not want his case reviewed for "any alleged errors of the trial"
and waived his right "to file an opening brief and to have my
attorney present any oral arguments or to otherwise in any manner
pursue appellate review." The trial court entered an order
finding that Patterson knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently
waived his right to appeal.
While a defendant may waive his rights of appellate review and
instruct his attorneys to refrain from seeking a commutation of his
death sentence, a defendant may not waive the review process
mandated by Code 17.1-313(C). "[T]he purpose of the review
process is to assure the fair and proper application of the death
penalty statutes in this Commonwealth and to instill public
confidence in the administration of justice." Akers v.
Commonwealth, 260 Va. 358, 364, 535 S.E.2d 674, 677 (2000).
Accordingly, pursuant to our order of November 15, 2000, Patterson's
counsel has filed a brief limited to the issues we must consider
pursuant to Code 17.1-313(C) and participates in this process as
an officer of the Court. Id.
We first consider whether the death sentence in
this case "was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or
any other arbitrary factor." Code 17.1-313(C)(1). This
crime was brutally executed. The victim was bound, raped, and
then repeatedly stabbed so that there would be no witness to the
The evidence shows that the victim apparently
attempted to survive her attack by hiding in the bathroom, placing a
call to the police, and then, when her attacker returned, trying to
escape out a rear window in the bathroom. We find no
indication in the record that, in imposing the death sentence for
these acts, the trial court's sentencing decision was influenced by
passion, prejudice, or any arbitrary factor, but rather we find that
it was based entirely upon a reasonable evaluation of the evidence.
We next focus our evaluation on whether the sentence of death in
this case is "excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed
in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant."
Code 17.1-313(C)(2). We have accumulated the records of all
capital murder cases reviewed by this Court. Code
17.1-313(E). The records include not only those capital murder
cases in which the death penalty was imposed, but also those in
which the trial court or jury imposed a life sentence and the
defendant petitioned this Court for an appeal.
making this proportionality review, we have focused specifically on
cases in which the facts are similar to those of this case - where
the predicate offense is rape and the death sentence was imposed
upon a finding that both aggravating factors, vileness and future
dangerousness, were present.
We conclude that, in considering both the crime
and the defendant, Patterson's sentence is neither excessive nor
disproportionate to the penalties imposed by other sentencing bodies
in the Commonwealth for comparable acts. See, e.g., Payne v.
Commonwealth, 257 Va. 216, 509 S.E.2d 293 (1999) (forced entry into
victim's home; robbery, rape, and murder of excessive beating with a
hammer); Beck v. Commonwealth, 253 Va. 373, 484 S.E.2d 898 (1997) (beat,
raped, and murdered victim in her home; sentence imposed upon a plea
of guilty); Williams v. Commonwealth, 248 Va. 528, 450 S.E.2d 365
(1994) (forced entry into victim's home and committed robbery, rape,
murder, and arson); Hoke, 237 Va. 303, 377 S.E.2d 595 (1989) (victim
bound, stabbed, raped, and murdered in home); Mason v. Commonwealth,
219 Va. 1091, 254 S.E.2d 116 (1979) (beat, tortured, raped, and
murdered victim in her home; sentence imposed upon a guilty plea).
Having found no error below and perceiving no other reason to
commute or set aside the sentence of death, we will affirm the
judgment of the trial court.
Patterson also pled guilty to charges of abduction with
intent to defile, Code 18.2-48, and rape, Code 18.2-61, and
entered an "Alford plea," North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25
(1970), to a charge of forcible sodomy, Code 18.2-67.1. He
was sentenced to consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the
abduction and sodomy convictions. Patterson has not appealed