Life sentence for killing Roanoker who interrupted burglary
By Mike Gangloff | The Roanoke Times
A New Year's burglar who gunned down a designated driver who interrupted his break-in pleaded guilty today to murder, burglary and firearms charges.
Timothy J. Rhea, 34, was sentenced to life imprisonment by Roanoke Circuit Judge Jonathan Apgar. Under a plea agreement, the judge suspended Rhea's sentence after 25 years. Rhea told the judge he'd write a letter of apology to his victim's family.
Rhea admitted fatally shooting Charles C. Gardner II, 35, outside a house in the 1000 block of Gilmer Avenue Northwest early on New Year's Day.
Gardner had been celebrating with his wife and three children, toasting with sparking grape juice, when two friends called from a bar and asked for a ride home. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John McNeil said in court today that while Gardner dropped off one of the friends, the men saw the front door standing open.
Four burglars fled out the back, McNeil said. Rhea, the last to leave, fired three or four shots, hitting Gardner in the heart. Gardner collapsed into the snow and died at the scene.
Three other men were charged in the burglary. Two of them were caught New Year's morning when they tried to retrieve their getaway car from the crime scene. Those men fingered Rhea as the killer, the prosecutor said.
Gardner's father, Charles Gardner Sr., mother Jayne, and wife Artrice, described Gardner as a man who enjoyed his three children, ages 13, 11 and 7. He was a self-employed restorer of antique cars and had been working on a 1972 Camaro before he was slain. He was a lifelong Roanoker and lived with his family in Forest Park.
"He would help anybody," Artrice Gardner said outside the courtroom.
Charles Gardner Sr. said he wishes Rhea hadn't brought a gun to the break-in.
"He went from a robber to a cold-blooded murder just like that," Gardner said.