Chesapeake man gets life for murders of father, brother

(Walter Hildebrand/WAVY Photo)

CHESAPEAKE, Va (WAVY) — A Chesapeake man was sentenced Monday to life in prison in a triple shooting that resulted in the death of his father and brother.

21-year-old Zachary Toothman pleaded guilty to turning a gun on his family at their home on Helen Avenue in August 2016.

Michael and Matthew Toothman

Toothman used the gun issued to his father — Michael Toothman, a Chesapeake police detective — to carry out the shootings. His father and brother, Matthew Toothman, both died in the shooting.

Documents detailing what would have been prosecutors’ evidence — had the case gone to trial — show Toothman’s family thought he was going back to Virginia Tech at the time of the shooting.

However, Toothman was on academic suspension. The documents show that after he began shooting, Toothman said, “I am not going back to school.”

He then shot his mother, who testified that she played dead before getting help.

Toothman attempted suicide with a pocketknife seven months before the shooting, but decided to continue classes in college, according to testimony. His defense attorney argued he should have been on medication and probably should not have returned to school.

Toothman’s grandparents told 10 On Your Side in an interview they believe Toothman was ashamed to tell his family about his academic situation at Virginia Tech.

Special prosecutor Paul Ebert said the defendant got what he deserved.

“Here’s somebody that’s got a goal of not having to go back to school, not having to face reality, so he planned a horrendous crime, goes and gets his father’s gun, puts on gloves, he kills the brother he thinks so much of, and then shoots his father. His (father’s) last words were, ‘I love you.’ It couldn’t be more tragic than that,” he said.

Toothman said in court Monday: “I’m not going to ask you for mercy…I fully acknowledge what I did was terrible. Whatever was going through my head at the time, it was a terrible sin.”

He talked about a “self-destructive path” that imploded against his family and said he was the last living memory of his father and brother. “I don’t want that to be locked away forever,” he said.

Toothman’s mother broke down several times on the stand, saying her son was always a sweet person who was trying to please others. She said she didn’t recognize him at the time of the shooting. He had dark eyes and wasn’t himself. “He wasn’t my son.”

She asked the judge for leniency. “I know what Zach did was horrible,” she said, adding that she believed he acted out of desperation, not malice.

The judge sentenced Toothman to two life terms plus 23 years, calling it “one of the most unusual cases,” with no clear explanation for why it happened.