By: WTVR Staff
NORFOLK, Va. (WTKR) — When Graham McCormick’s family asked Rand Hooper to speak at his funeral, Graham’s father Burke McCormick said, “We never dreamed he was somehow involved in Graham’s death.”
For weeks after Graham’s body was found floating in the water where Carter’s Creek meets the Rappahannock River, Rand told investigators that he, Graham, and another man played cards and drank on his parents’ river house dock, and then they all went to bed.
He also suggested Graham might have had a panic attack and went to the emergency room because Rand said Graham told him he had a panic attack after his brother Will’s death from brain cancer.
Rand even watched as Graham’s mother used an oar to search the water by the dock for her son.
“We thought Rand Hooper was a close family friend,” Burke McCormick said.
But, 25 days after detectives recovered Graham’s body, his family received some shocking news.
Rand had just told detectives in the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office that he and Graham took a boat ride in the early morning hours of Aug. 11 in 2017, the same day Graham’s body was found.
Hooper said he could not remember who was driving the boat, but he remembered the boat hitting something hard, turning the boat’s engine off, calling out for Graham, and when he did not see or hear him, he figured his friend was a good swimmer and could make it to shore.
He then got his bearings straight to the Tides Inn and told detectives he remembered nothing after that.
“They’ve never expressed any remorse or said they were sorry or anything. It’s just such a sense of betrayal that my family feels,” Burke McCormick said about Rand and the Hooper family.
The revelation came after Lancaster detectives discovered a Boston Whaler boat at the Hooper home with a large amount of damage that matched damage on the bulkhead where they found Graham’s body.
But when detectives charged Rand in connection with Graham’s death, that was only the beginning in the McCormick family’s four-and-a-half-year fight for justice.
“Two-and-a-half years ago when things went sideways, I felt alone, I felt abandoned, I felt like my family was left out in the cold, and I prayed and asked for warriors,” Gordon McCormick, Graham’s younger brother, said.
“This case has had more twists and turns than a bobsled run,” Burke McCormick said.
From 2017 until now, the McCormick family endured a plea deal thrown out by a judge, a prosecutor who had his law license suspended, another prosecutor who was removed from the case, new more serious charges and COVID delays.
“I’ve spent the majority of my 20s waiting for justice for my brother,” Catherine McCormick, Graham’s sister, said.
On Thursday, their long wait finally came to an end when a Norfolk jury found Rand Hooper guilty of involuntary manslaughter and failure to stop and render assistance in a boating crash.
Rand faces a maximum sentence of 15 years, and the judge revoked his bond.
“My life has been on hold and for the first time, I really feel like I am going to be able to move forward,” Catherine McCormick said.
“Once I saw the handcuffs go on, that’s when it became real, that’s when I felt like it was time to turn the page, and I got my life back,” Gordon McCormick said.
Next up in the case, the judge will determine Rand Hooper’s sentence.
During the trial, prosecutors could not bring up Hooper’s prior record of DUIs, and the time he shot his friend while drunk in the Fan neighborhood.
However, during sentencing, the judge will be able to consider those.
“It has been a long four and a half years, and finally, justice has been served. When the judge read the verdict yesterday, the sense of relief was palpable,” Winston Blair, whose sister is married to Rand and was at the River house that night, said in a statement.
“Identifying Graham’s body and listening to Rand read scripture at Graham’s funeral knowing the suspicions had already been placed were the two most difficult things I have ever experienced. The lies and deception surrounding the death of Graham McCormick have strained nearly every relationship that I have within my own family. I know yesterday brought a long-awaited closure to the McCormick family, and for that, I am grateful. I have renewed faith in our justice system. Prosecutors Matt Kite and Tiffany Webb brought that justice. I look forward to putting this behind me. I am confident the judge will serve the defendant a proper jail sentence to fit the heinous crime and cover-up. The cover-up was worse than the crime itself.”
This story was originally published Jan. 24, 2021, by WTKR in Norfolk, an E.W. Scripps Company.