Scottish court orders former lacrosse coach Walter Johnson to return to US to face charges related to 2018 murder and kidnapping plot
A former high school lacrosse coach Walter Johnson accused of plotting to murder parents and kidnap five children in Virginia has lost his bid to stay in the UK, where he has been for three years.
A Scottish court last week rejected Gary Blake Reburn’s bid to avoid extradition to the United States to face criminal charges.
Reburn, 58, is one of four people charged with hatching a plan to kidnap five children from two homes in a Mennonite community in Dayton, Va., southwest of Harrisonburg.
When the plan fell through in July 2018, Reburn and two others – his girlfriend Valerie Hayes and Jennifer Amnott from Florida – fled to the UK, where they were arrested on November 28, 2018 in Scotland.
The three men could appeal the extradition order. They will remain in the UK until the process is complete, according to Brian McGinn, spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office, Western District of Virginia.
The fourth defendant, Amnott’s husband Frank, was arrested at the scene and pleaded guilty to multiple counts in December 2019.
Reburn, Hayes and Jennifer Amnott have spent the past three years fighting their extradition, arguing that the minimum sentences for their crimes violate the European Convention on Human Rights because they are “grossly disproportionate and, in in any event, impracticable”. subsequently reduced,” according to a ruling by Scotland’s High Court of Justice.
Specifically, the trio said the minimum life sentence — without the possibility of parole — for the charge of attempting to kill a witness with intent to prevent communication with a federal law enforcement officer is a disproportionate punishment for a crime less serious than murder.
On Friday, the Scottish court ruled that if the defendants were found guilty, the crimes committed were so “serious”, that they would “deserve very substantial prison sentences, including life”.
“If a jurisdiction considers that a conspiracy to kill witnesses should carry a mandatory life sentence, even in a system without parole, then it is for the democratic processes of that jurisdiction to determine” , said the decision.
He also said opportunities for early release, outside of parole, exist, though unlikely, including compassionate release and executive clemency.
In July 2018, Hayes reportedly told the Amnotts that three of her children had been kidnapped and were being held by two families in a Mennonite community in Dayton. Hayes asked the Amnotts to help get her three children back, along with two others, according to court records.
None of the children were Hayes’s, prosecutors say, and she did not have legal custody of any of the children involved.
Hayes knew the Amnotts couldn’t conceive their own children and “promised that if they helped Hayes kidnap the children, the Amnotts could keep one of the other children as their own,” according to a press release from the office of the US attorney.
The plan included killing the parents in both homes – to eliminate witnesses – when they kidnapped the children, authorities said. All the children to be kidnapped were under 8 years old.
“Although the facts of this case read like the script of a bad horror movie, the defendants’ murder plot was real and it put their victims at grave risk,” the press release said.
Authorities say Hayes, Reburn and Frank Amnott traveled to Dayton on July 29, 2018 to carry out the plan. Jennifer Amnott remained in Maryland, watching over Hayes’ other children.
In the morning, Hayes, Frank Amnott and Reburn broke into the victims’ house while they were at church to “observe, among other things, the size of the children’s clothes and the layout of the house”, according to court records.
Later that evening, Hayes reportedly knocked on the door of the First House in the evening, dressed in clothes “to appear like a Mennonite”. The father opened the door and saw they had guns and attempted to close the door, authorities said.
The group broke in and Frank Amnott tied the man up and held him at gunpoint in the basement.
The mother was able to escape and called 911 from a nearby cornfield.
When the police arrived, Hayes, still dressed in Mennonite clothing, pretended to be a neighbor. The police told Hayes and Reburn to leave with the mother. Hayes and Reburn dropped off the mother at a nearby convenience store.
Frank Amnott was arrested at home.
The two children were found safe and sound, still in their room.
Hayes and Reburn did not go to the second house as planned, but instead returned to Maryland.
In August 2018, Hayes, Reburn and Jennifer Amnott fled to Scotland, authorities say.
Reburn worked for MCPS between 2012 and August 2018, according to district officials. He was the coach of the Walter Johnson High School women’s lacrosse team.
According to the Walter Johnson High School Athletics website, Reburn was a karate instructor and was previously employed by Lifematters, a home care company. Reburn played Division III varsity lacrosse at Mount St. Mary’s University, according to the website.
Frank Amnott pleaded guilty in December 2019 to one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to kill witnesses and brandishing, carrying and using a firearm in the commission of a crime of federal violence. He was not convicted.