VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A Virginia Beach judge certified a single charge related to lying on a background check form against William Phelps IV in court Thursday morning.
Phelps had attempted to purchase a firearm in May 2022 and checked a box saying that he had never been institutionalized – something Virginia State Police found was at odds with their records.
A state trooper began investigating Phelps in August. When his fingerprints were entered into the system, detectives in Norfolk were alerted to something remarkable – a link to a 15-year-old cold case rape.
His finger matched a single print taken off of a shed in Norfolk near where two girls were sexually assaulted at gunpoint in 2008. Phelps faces 10 charges in Norfolk related to that incident.
DNA evidence potentially links him to several other sexual assault incidents in Norfolk and Chesapeake around that time.
During the hearing, attorneys went through the wording and definitions related to the question on the form about mental health.
In order to purchase a firearm, one must complete two background check documents, a federal ATF form and a State Police form. Phelps apparently checked that he had never been committed to a mental health facility on both.
The state trooper who originally interviewed him about the forms in August testified that Phelps mistakenly believed that the word “committed” referred to relationships or “something for life.”
According to VSP, which maintains mental health institutionalization records, Phelps was committed to Maryview Medical Center and later moved to the Eastern State Hospital. It was unclear how long he spent in both facilities.
Phelps was quiet, though somewhat uncooperative in court.
Towards the end of the hearing, he told the judge that he wanted to replace his attorney, a public defender. When the judge asked him why, he replied “I don’t know.”
He also refused the instructions of the judge to sign a form acknowledging the next court dates in the case.
The judge sent the charges to a grand jury, which will meet April 3. A trial date was set for April 24.