Essie Handy, a sister of Lorene “Bug” Hopkins-Pequignot, said Wednesday she had been hearing that Thomas Richard Pequignot would be charged in Lorene’s death but that she hadn’t believed that would happen.

At a news conference Wednesday morning, that did happen.

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry and Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Nester announced the indictment Monday and arrest Tuesday of Tom Pequignot, 71, on a charge of first-degree murder in the strangulation death of his wife, Lorene Hopkins-Pequignot, 69, last year.

On Jan. 12, 2018, at 6:57 p.m., the Martinsville-Henry County 911 Center received a call from Tom Pequignot, who told the dispatcher that it appeared his home at 4436 Longview Drive in Fieldale had been broken into and he could not find his wife.

Deputies entered the house and found the body of “Mrs. Hopkins-Pequignot, and she was deceased,” Perry said at the press conference.

Her body was sent to the Office of the Chef Medical Examiner for the Western District of Virginia for an autopsy, which ruled the death a homicide caused by manual strangulation.

“While working the crime scene to identify and collecting evidence, it became quickly apparent that it appeared to be a staged crime scene,” Perry said. “Evidence was collected, and then over the past 16 months we have continued working very diligently on this case, going through the evidence, the testing with that…

“We also have conducted dozens of interviews, and some of these interviews have been in South Carolina and other locations.”

On Monday a Henry County grand jury issued a sealed indictment of Tom Pequignot, now of 277 Sheppard Road in Stuart, and he was arrested at that address on Tuesday by deputies from the Henry County and Patrick County sheriff’s offices.

Handy said she didn’t know about the news conference Wednesday, and she and some other family members didn’t know that Pequignot had been charged until she heard that on TV news Wednesday morning.

“We are mad as hell. We are furious we had to see that,” Handy said. “No one called me, my sister or my brother.

“They apparently got in touch with the son and grandson last night at the time they picked him [Pequignot] up. They didn’t call the rest of us. Do you think that’s right? It makes us feel we are not important for us to be called. They have treated me, my sister and my brother like we are not part of this murder. It is like Lorene has been murdered all over again.”

Was she surprised at Tom Pequignot being charged?

“I don’t know. I was hearing he was going to be arrested,” Handy said, adding she didn’t believe it. “I did not hear the reasons. I heard all they have is circumstantial evidence, very little DNA and it’s not a strong case.

“I don’t think Tom got up one day and said I’m going to murder Lorene. He [Tom] was a very quiet person. He seemed to worship the ground Lorene walked on. If she wanted something built in the house, or redone, he was proud to do it.”

Handy said she never heard Pequignot “say an unkind word to her” and that her sister was difficult because she suffered from bipolar disorder and had significant mood swings.

“Lorene was a wonderful human being, good, but she was bipolar, and you never knew what you were getting [in terms of her mood],” Handy said. “She pushed all our buttons, and she knew how to do it.”

Perry, when asked about motive in the slaying, didn’t offer one.

“At this point all we can say is that it was a husband and wife, and we do not know that we can accurately say what a motive is at this time, what may have led to it,” he said.

He said he believes the slaying took place at the couple’s home in Fieldale and that Lorene Hopkins had been dead for hours when officers found her. He declined to describe the crime scene or what led investigators to believe it was staged to appear like a break-in

As to why Pequignot was charged: “The evidence in the case, everything we worked through brought us to the conclusion he was the person who committed this crime,” Perry said, declining to be more specific. He would not say if Lorene Pequignot was injured beyond strangulation.

“We can’t elaborate on what evidence we have at this juncture because it is a pending criminal matter that will appear potentially in front of a Henry County jury,” Nester said. “So we can’t disclose all of our evidence at this juncture.”

Pequignot is being held without bond in Henry County Jail, and Nester said there would be a first appearance hearing soon, when counsel will be appointed, with a docket hearing set for July 15.

Arlie Dalton of Willis, Lorene’s brother, said Wednesday he wasn’t too surprised that Pequignot was charged with the death. “Most times, if a family member gets killed, it’s someone in the family. … It was a little surprise,” he said.

His wife, Jackie Dalton, said that Pequignot told the family that “he had a lie detector test and was cleared.”

She said the couple met via the internet and that Pequignot had moved to Henry County from West Virginia. She said she saw him at family dinners and special occasions.

“He was always nice and very quiet,” she said. “I was actually shocked when it happened, and even more [now].”

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