Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, was acquitted of a misdemeanor assault charge brought by his primary opponent, Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, on Wednesday in Wythe County.
March in September swore out a warrant against Williams, claiming that he had “intentionally pushed/shouldered slammed” into her “in front of a large group of people” at a Republican fundraiser in Wythe County.
The incident occurred as attendees were leaving the 9th Congressional District Gala at the Wytheville Meeting Center.
Williams, an attorney from Stuart, denied the accusation. He said he accidentally bumped into March as he was trying to leave the event with his wife and immediately apologized.
Judge Becky Moore, a retired judge from Alexandria who was brought in to hear the case, said the “commonwealth fell short” in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams intentionally made contact with March at the September event.
Williams himself testified that he did bump March while leaving the event, but characterized it as accidental contact in a crowd of people.
Surveillance video of the incident shows Williams work his way through a group of people, but it did not capture anyone being body-slammed or stumbling. This video was played during the trial.
Officers who responded to the scene did not charge Williams. March went to the magistrate’s office later that night and swore out a warrant.
After two continuances, the case went to trial Wednesday morning.
March did not respond to an email seeking her comment after the proceeding, but she wrote on Facebook that Williams admitted under oath to “hitting me hard enough to throw himself backward.”
She added that in addition to her four witnesses that were allowed to testify, another eight also wanted to tell the court what they saw that evening, but that prosecutors did not allow the latter to be heard after the judge repeatedly sustained defense objections.
“Judges are appointed by politicians and the swamp is deep, folks,” March wrote. “Our country is in a sad state of affairs.”
Williams said in a statement that he was “grateful that the truth has come out” and that justice has been served.
“From the start, we knew this was a desperate political hit-job from March and that it would fall apart under the weight of the evidence and testimony. March has a pattern of using the criminal justice system to target people who stand in her way. We have been looking forward to this day in court so we could put this behind us,” Williams said.
In an interview after the trial, which lasted about two and a half hours, James Turk, Williams’ attorney, said he believed Moore made the correct decision.
“I’m glad that this is behind Wren,” Turk said. “He has other important things to focus on.”
The commonwealth called four witnesses, including March and others who were with her at the event.
“All I know is I was talking to people, and he just slammed into me,” March testified. “He came out of nowhere and slammed into me.”
Other prosecution witnesses said they saw Williams make contact with March during the event. Lydia Webb testified that Williams lowered his shoulder as he approached March. Some testified that they heard Williams apologize, and others said they didn’t hear him say anything.
March testified that Williams offered a delayed apology when he was about 10 feet past her, which she said she did not find sincere.
The defense called two witnesses, including Williams.
“I was not bracing or dropping my shoulder” or preparing to hit anyone, Williams testified. “I said, ‘oops sorry,’ just reflexively. It was not sarcastic.”
Kathryn Hagwood, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney from Wythe County, said in her closing argument that Williams had reason to intentionally bump March because they are political opponents.
Both Williams and March were elected to the House of Delegates in 2021. But before they were even sworn in, their futures in Richmond were thrown into question when they were drawn into the same House district through the state’s redistricting process.
This spring, the two Republican freshman delegates will face each other in a highly competitive nomination battle in what political observers expect to be an ugly contest.
“It’s clear that this was done purposefully,” Hagwood said. “There’s no requirement that she be severely injured.”
Turk, however, said that March has as much political motive to make an accidental bump into a big deal.
“Ms. Hagwood is arguing that because they’re political opponents, Wren Williams has reason to hit her,” Turk said. “She has just as much motive to create something that may not be to gain political advantage. … This has been blown into something much more than what it was.”
March is no stranger to controversy. In November, she made news once again when she called for ousting Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, claiming that it was time for “generational change” in the representation of Virginia’s 9th Congressional District.
Later that month, she attempted to politicize the death of Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, criticizing him for his efforts to protect abortion rights just hours after the lawmaker had passed away.
And earlier this month, a special prosecutor cleared Pulaski County officials from conspiracy allegations over alleged zoning violations relating to March’s event venue The Big Red Barn after she had sought a criminal probe by Virginia State Police.
March and Williams will see each other again next week when the General Assembly reconvenes in Richmond for its 2023 legislative session. A primary in June will decide the Republican nominee for the newly drawn district.
Markus Schmidt contributed to this report.