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Murder Victim’s Mother Has Questions for One of Virginia’s Progressive Prosecutors

Loudoun County, Va., commonwealth's attorney Buta Biberaj / YouTube
• February 24, 2022 12:00 pm

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Mellanie Cromwell can't help feeling that a touch of common sense would have saved her daughter Regina's life.

Regina's estranged husband, Peter Lollobrigido, was arrested on domestic abuse charges after allegedly strangling her and slamming her around their kitchen in view of their teenage son. He got a light release package—$5,000 unsecured bond and an ankle monitor—and was out of jail in a week. A few months later, he turned up at Regina's door and beat her to death with a hammer.

Cromwell contemplates the fail points. Why wasn’t Lollobrigido's ankle monitor configured to trigger an alarm if he approached Regina? Why wasn't therapy a condition of his bond package? And the cruelest question—why did he bond out at all?

Answers haven't been forthcoming from Loudoun County commonwealth's attorney Buta Biberaj. A progressive prosecutor elected on the strength of $861,000 in contributions from George Soros's Justice and Public Safety PAC, Biberaj opposes pretrial detention in most instances and characterizes domestic violence as a health problem that warrants a clinical response, not a criminal problem.

Regina's murder was an inflection point for Biberaj, who now faces scrutiny from fellow Democrats and her own deputies for administrative incompetence and mishandling of high-profile cases, including Regina's. The political turmoil leaves Regina's mother in the worst possible position, at once eager that justice be accomplished for her daughter and wary of antagonizing the embattled commonwealth's attorney.

"I can't say anything because he's not been sentenced and they're in charge. I'm afraid. I can't say anything until the ink is dry on his sentence," said Cromwell, speaking publicly for the first time about her daughter's case in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon.

The kitchen assault could have been the bookend to a sorry relationship. In summer 2021, Regina's life was trending in a new direction. After nearly two decades in home inspection, Regina became a substitute teacher at Hovatter Elementary School in Aldie, Va. She was enrolled to study for a teaching certificate, having found a passion for education a touch later in life. And she had the Grateful Dead, her favorite band, the soundtrack of her life. Cromwell told the Free Beacon that Regina always went to Dead shows with an extra ticket in hand for a fan who needed one, a "miracle" in the jargon of the Deadhead subculture.

A male relative stayed with Regina in stretches after Lollobrigido was released on July 31. The ankle monitor he was ordered to wear put Regina at ease, Cromwell said, and gave her confidence about her decision to remain in Loudoun County following Lollobrigido's release.

"She, like anybody else, assumed that if he came anywhere near her, it would alarm," Cromwell said.

A county spokesman told local press after Regina's death that the monitor was not programmed for that purpose. It was a fatal mistake.

Lollobrigido was confined to a psychiatric hospital after his arrest for the Sept. 19 attack. In January, a Loudoun County court ordered Lollobrigido to undergo an assessment, consistent with longstanding concerns about his mental health. Cromwell wonders why these issues weren't accounted for in the bail package, doubly so given that Biberaj purports to be attuned to crises of health and well-being that she says underlie so much crime.

"What did you do when you let him out to make sure he got the mental health care he needed?" Cromwell asked. "What were the parameters?"

Cromwell, a Quantico-born Marine brat with deep ties to Virginia, has followed the controversies subsuming Biberaj. She was wounded hearing Biberaj's January State of Justice address, in which the commonwealth's attorney boasted of savings accrued by her anti-incarceration practices.

"We collectively have been able to successfully reduce the daily jail population from a number of 425 to about 250 on a regular basis," Biberaj said, referring to the inmate population at the Loudoun County jail. "And that $166 a day, that is a net saving to Loudoun County of over $110 million a year."

Local officials contest those figures. Cromwell's reaction, inevitably, is intertwined with Regina's case.

"How does one think I felt when I heard her say, ‘I saved the county $166 a day'? I'm a victim again, over and over," Cromwell told the Free Beacon.

The family is periodically in touch with a victim's advocate at the Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney and with the prosecutor handling Lollobrigido's case. The matter was recently reassigned from Barry Zweig, one of Biberaj's top deputies, to Christina Brady. The family has spoken once with Biberaj, but Cromwell recalls the interaction was impromptu, and she can't reconstruct it precisely.

The family was on an introductory conference call with Zweig and a victim advocate, which Biberaj joined briefly midstream. Cromwell said she was caught off guard and would have prepared differently for the encounter.

"She may have said she was sorry," Cromwell recounts. "I can't even remember what she said because I was in utter shock. I was not prepared for her to jump in on the call. Otherwise my stance would have been a little different."

"No one has called me and said, ‘We failed. We failed your daughter. Your daughter is gone because we failed. The system failed her.' No one."