- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

MANASSAS — A former cafeteria worker whose son brought weapons to his school was sentenced yesterday to three months in jail.

Naomi Lewis realized that she could serve jail time when she pleaded guilty in October to a felony weapons charge, defense attorney Steven Smith said. But Mr. Smith called the judge’s decision “unexpected” because prosecutors did not ask for the jail time.

Prince William District Court Judge Richard Potter said he thought Lewis had learned her lesson, but was worried about the message it would send if she avoided jail.

He said people need to know bringing guns on school property means jail time.

“This is not a case of forgetfulness, stupidity or negligence. … It’s clearly a case of criminal conduct,” Judge Potter said, pointing out that Lewis, 39, initially did not tell police that she found the weapons in her van.

In closing arguments, Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said when he first heard about the case, he didn’t understand how a mother could bring a child to school with weapons, and he thought she should be put in jail.

Mr. Ebert said he changed his mind, recommending a five-year suspended sentence, after learning that Lewis locked the weapons in the van without realizing her son had a spare key. He said Lewis did not know that her son had been teased at school.

Afterward, Mr. Ebert said he respected the judge’s decision to impose a five-year sentence with all but three months suspended.

“This could have been an extreme tragedy,” Mr. Ebert said.

Both Mr. Ebert and Mr. Smith argued that Lewis already had been punished with the loss of her son. He has been in juvenile detention since he dressed in camouflage and brought three guns into Bull Run Middle School in Gainesville, Va., on June 18. An assistant principal found the boy with the weapons in a bathroom and was able to alert police before anyone was hurt.

“I’m working through the decisions I made that day. I apologize and I’m truly sorry for what happened,” a teary Lewis told the court.

Lewis said she found the guns and ammunition when she arrived at the school, but her son shrugged when she asked him why they were there. She then locked the van to go to work at the school cafeteria on the last day of classes.

Her son, who is now 13, has been ordered to a state detention facility for an indefinite period. He could be held until he turns 21. Because of his age, he is not being identified.

Mr. Smith said Lewis was close to her son, but she and her husband of 18 years had no warning about his behavior. Smith said the child was a Boy Scout who performed well in school and who had friends. He called the judge’s sentence “a strong message” in which he sees another message — that this could happen to any family.

“If there’s a message, perhaps it’s to talk to your kids,” Mr. Smith said.

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