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Building the Devil

Building the Devil's Staircase


 


J. Michael Sharman


 


            On July 2nd, 2006, 43 year-old Ira Wayne Cloniger allegedly stabbed and killed his friend Edward Carlton Fletcher Jr. and ran away into the deep woods of the Shenandoah National Park, which adjoined the house in Gid Brown Hollow where they were staying.


            ShenandoahNational Park contains 196,466 acres, 80,000 of which are designated as wilderness. It contains 500 miles of hiking trails and connects to the 2,144 miles of Appalachian Mountain paths from Maine to Georgia which are known as the Appalachian Trail.


Culpeper Star Exponent editor Rob Humphreys quoted Rappahannock County Sheriff Larry Sherertz, as saying the search for Cloviger is "like trying to catch a slippery fish in a swift river wearing boxing gloves."


            The Virginia State Police, the Park Police, and deputies from four counties are helping in the search,  using helicopters, dogs, and searchers on foot.


Sheriff Sherertz told reporters that if he had to rate Cloniger for dangerousness: "On a zero to ten scale, he's a ten." But to reassure the public the sheriff added that, "I do not think that this guy is going to break into somebody's house and assault them."


            But Ira Wayne Cloniger was caught doing exactly that three months previously, when on April 20th, he entered the back door of an acquaintance' home in Culpeper County and allegedly stabbed 60 year-old Wally Clem. When the officers were arresting him, he tried to flee, but they tasered him. On June 20th, 2006 Culpeper indicted Cloniger on a Malicious Wounding charge and released him on a $10,000 bond.


            Two months before he (allegedly) stabbed Wally Clem, Cloniger was convicted in Fauquier County on February 3rd, 2006 of a Second Offense DUI, but he had 160 days of his 180 day sentence suspended. He also had charges of Obstructing Justice and No Operators License dismissed.


            Cloniger was also caught a few times in 2005: he was found not guilty on charges of assault and battery and trespassing in Frederick County in September, and had a Domestic Assault and Battery dismissed in Clarke County in May, 2005. In March of 2005, he paid a fine on a Reckless Driving charge in Clarke County which had been reduced to Improper Driving.  In February of 2005, Fairfax County dropped charges against him of  DUI Second Offense, a Capias Bench Warrant, and Driving on Revoked.


            In 2004, he only had one charge but it was a serious one: an Assault and Battery against a police officer, Dep. Bursey in Frederick County. He was given a three year prison sentence, which should have kept him from stabbing Clem and Fletcher two years later, but he had twenty-eight months of that sentence dropped. He was still on an active three year supervised probation from that charge on June 20th, 2006 when Culpeper County granted him bond on the Malicious Wounding charge.        


            There was another conviction the year before for a felony Assault and Battery against a different Frederick County police officer, Dep. Swisher. For that one, Cloniger was sentenced on October 20, 2003 to serve one year of a three year sentence, and was also given three years of supervised probation.


            Not much else happened in 2003 except he had an Aggravated Malicious Wounding dismissed in April, 2003 and a Possession of Marijuana dismissed on condition that he pay the court costs in January, 2003, both in Frederick County.


            Only a conviction for a Drunk in Public in Culpeper County and  29 days of jail time for Possession of Marijuana in Frederick County marred Cloviger's otherwise perfect 2002.


            He spent quite a few hours in courtrooms in 2001, but only had nine days of jail time to show for it. A Drunk In Public charge in Fairfax and another in Fauquier. In Warren County, he had a DUI, an Eluding Police, an Obstruction of Justice, and later a probation violation on the DUI conviction.


            Warren County was the only place he got into trouble in 2000 and they gave him no jail time for his Reckless Driving and Hit and Run convictions.


            Prior to that his criminal record evaporates into Fauquier County  convictions for a 1998 Drunk in Public, a 1997 Property Damage, and a 1992 conviction for Felonious Assault for which he was given a one year jail sentence.


            In Shenandoah National Park near Gid Brown Hollow is a hiking trail called the Little Devil's Staircase. Maybe as Ira Wayne Cloniger is looking for place to hide in that great forest he is thinking about how his life has taken him step by step up a devil's staircase to murder. And maybe some of the folks in the various justice systems he has passed through will also be contemplating how a dropped charge here, and a reduced sentence there, have helped to build that devil's staircase.