VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Charges have been withdrawn against a man accused of hiring a hit man to kill his wife in Virginia Beach back in 2004.
The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office says it withdrew the charges against Christopher Schmidt because the alleged hit man, co-defendant Richard Stoner, withdrew his previous guilty plea and refuses to cooperate with prosecutors.
“His testimony is essential in a prosecution against Schmidt, and without it, the evidence in Schmidt’s case is insufficient to proceed at this time,” a statement from the commonwealth’s attorney’s office reads. “Without a ruling on whether Stoner’s previous testimony can be offered as evidence in Schmidt’s trial, the Commonwealth cannot proceed to trial. It would be unfair to the victims’ family to proceed with a trial and risk double jeopardy.”
Stoner is accused of fatally shooting Christopher Schmidt’s then-wife Lois Schmidt and her 7-year-old son Jonathan Vetrano back in 2004 on Newcombe Road in Virginia Beach. Police also found Schmidt’s brother outside of the burning home when they arrived. He survived his injuries.
The case was cold until 2018, when Stoner was arrested in Indiana. Christopher Schmidt was arrested days later in Florida.
Stoner said on the stand during his prior preliminary hearing that he killed the boy because he didn’t want him to grow up having seen his mother killed.
Stoner pleaded guilty and entered a plea deal back in 2019. Prosecutors told him they wouldn’t seek the death penalty if he testified against Schmidt. In July, the death penalty was abolished in the commonwealth. That’s when Stoner had a change of heart and asked a judge to withdraw his guilty plea.
A trial date for Stoner will be determined in October.
Though charges were dropped on Tuesday against Schmidt, the case remains open, the commonwealth says, and the charges could be brought back if sufficient evidence becomes available.
As of Tuesday, Schmidt had been released from jail.
“They have the perpetrator in custody,” Schmidt’s attorney Lisa Broccoletti said. “He [Stoner] has confessed and Mr. Schmidt didn’t have anything to do with this.”
“He’s been incarcerated, and he hasn’t had contact with his family, so it’s been really tragic for him as well,” Broccoletti added.
“We are grateful that the commonwealth has taken the position and understands there isn’t sufficient evidence against Mr. Schmidt,” Broccoletti said. “It is a sad case for everybody of course.”