Robert Finch, 30, and Dana Thrall, 25, were shot in her Rollingwood Village town house. Elliott was convicted Wednesday of the first degree murder of Finch and capital murder of Thrall. He was also found guilty of two counts of use of a firearm. Prosecutors said in opening statements that Elliott was jealous of Finch, who was embroiled in a child custody battle with Rebecca Gragg. Elliott was infatuated with Gragg.
Elliott “was lonely, looking for companionship. He was willing to spend half a million dollars on her [Gragg]. The more he gave, the colder she got. He became a desperate man,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett said in closing arguments Wednesday. “[Elliott became] obsessed, irrational, suicidal and ultimately murderous.”
Elliott met Gragg, an adult escort and stripper, on the Internet. She posted an ad for a “sugar daddy” on an adult personals site, and he responded. During the course of their 18-month relationship, Elliott spent $450,000 on Gragg, providing her with a furnished house, car, cell phone, credit card, and breast enhancement surgery. Gragg was a witness for the prosecution in both trials.
Elliott, of Hanover, Md., was first convicted in July 2002; the jury recommended a death sentence a few days later. But in September 2002, the first trial and conviction were nullified because of juror misconduct. Defense attorney William Moffitt successfully argued for a new trial, which began March 24.
“They [prosecutors] put this man’s life at issue with the testimony of Rebecca Gragg. She is the person who ties it all up,” Moffitt said in his closing argument Wednesday. “I cannot suggest in a greater way you cannot believe this woman. Not because she’s a stripper, because she’s a liar.”
Moffitt highlighted inconsistencies in Gragg’s testimony during the trial, and reminded jurors that there was no DNA evidence that placed Elliott inside Thrall’s town house. Moffitt also discussed Finch’s dog, which was in the back yard the morning of the murders, but never barked.
“These people were killed inside their home. … The killer shot from inside the house. The killer, therefore, had to gain access and entry,” Moffitt said. “Was there any suggestion of the lock picked? The door jam broken? What does that indicate? It suggests to me that it was a person known to them.” Elliott was not acquainted with Finch or Thrall, Moffitt said.
Willett drew the jury’s attention to a bloodstain on the back gate of the town house, which was found to be consistent with Elliott’s. The prosecutor also reminded jurors of testimony from the neighborhood newspaper carrier, who saw a truck matching the description of Elliott’s in the neighborhood near the time of the murders, as well as a man acting suspiciously. Willett said Elliott later admitted to being in the neighborhood.
Elliott shook his head as the jury’s verdict was announced. Jurors took less than four hours to reach their decision Wednesday afternoon.
“There is a common sentiment of relief,” Thrall’s brother, Cameron Thrall, said after the verdict Wednesday. “I hope this is finally it.”
Elliott’s trial will continue today in the sentencing phase. Trials in Virginia are divided into two parts, the guilt phase and sentencing. If jurors find the defendant guilty, they must then recommend a sentence within Virginia code guidelines. The sentence is actually meted out by a judge, who can lower the jury’s recommended sentence but not raise it.