2016 Metro rape vic­tim tear­fully tes­ti­fies in Mont­gomery court

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY DAN MORSE

The 39-year-old woman boarded a Metro train at 9 a.m., ex­hausted from her overnight nurs­ing shift. She headed home, away from down­town Wash­ing­ton, as the crowd on the Red Line thinned. She fell asleep.

In riv­et­ing tes­ti­mony in a Mont­gomery County court­room, the woman told jurors what hap­pened next. At least two of them would soon be cry­ing.

She awoke near the Fort Tot­ten A man stood sev­eral seats away. They were alone in the Metro car.

“He ap­proached me,” she said, “and I saw a knife.”

The crim­i­nal trial against John P. Hicks has ad­dressed a ques­tion that stunned Wash­ing­ton-area com­muters when the case sur­faced in 2016: How could some­one be raped in broad day­light on a week­day Metro train as it was mov­ing?

“That’s ex­actly what did hap­pen, ladies and gen­tle­men,” pros­e­cu­tor Donna Fen­ton told jurors, who are sched­uled to be­gin de­lib­er­at­ing Tues­day.

Ta­tiana David, an at­tor­ney for Hicks, did not deny a rape oc­curred. She said the po­lice ar­rested the wrong sus­pect.

“He is an in­no­cent man, wrongsta­tion. ly ac­cused of a crime that he didn’t com­mit, be­cause of a bad iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and be­cause of a bad in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” David said of Hicks.

In their case, the pros­e­cu­tion fo­cused on the vic­tim’s tes­ti­mony, surveil­lance video from in­side a Metro sta­tion, travel records from Hicks’s SmarTrip card and DNA re­port­edly from Hicks that was pulled from a tis­sue found below a seat par­tially ob­scured by a par­ti­tion in the cor­ner of a train car.

The tis­sue, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony, wasn’t found un­til hours af­ter the at­tack — a pe­riod in which the train in ques­tion took rid­ers up and down the Red Line as Metro Tran­sit Po­lice de­tec­tives hunted for what amounted to a mov­ing crime scene.

Part of their chal­lenge was get­ting com­muters off trains where the at­tack might have oc­curred and hav­ing those trains routed to end-of-the-line rail yards so the cars could be prop­erly pro­cessed for ev­i­dence. The tran­sit de­tec­tives pulled trains out of ser­vice

She says she took a nap and woke later to a male pas­sen­ger with a knife

three times af­ter the re­ported at­tack.

“When we have to take a train out of ser­vice, it’s a big deal,” De­tec­tive Michael More­house tes­ti­fied. “My sergeant was on the phone with rail op­er­a­tions. They were like, ‘You guys are crazy. You al­ready have two trains out of ser­vice.’ And we ac­tu­ally threat­ened them and said, ‘If you don’t bring that out to the Glen­mont rail yard, we will go stop it wher­ever it’s at and process it there.’ ”

Metro de­tec­tives had Hicks in cus­tody by the end of the day of the re­ported rape, a swift ar­rest of a man they say had slipped out of the sta­tion and gone home.

In Hicks’s trial this week, the vic­tim walked to the wit­ness stand on Wed­nes­day. Put un­der oath and asked whether she would tell the truth, her first three words were barely audi­ble. “Yes, I do,” she whis­pered. The Wash­ing­ton Post gen­er­ally does not iden­tify in­di­vid­u­als who say they were sex­u­ally as­saulted with­out their con­sent, which the woman de­clined to give.

As she con­tin­ued her tes­ti­mony, her voice grew clearer. She de­scribed her job and her com­mute.

Al­though her rides home oc­curred dur­ing morn­ing rush hour, she trav­eled against the com­mut­ing flow, tak­ing the Red Line north of Wash­ing­ton into Mont­gomery County, where rid­er­ship in that di­rec­tion gets sparse.

Fen­ton asked her to de­scribe the morn­ing of April 12, 2016.

She spoke of her train ride and how she awoke around the time she heard an an­nounce­ment for the Fort Tot­ten sta­tion. She re­al­ized there was only one other pas­sen­ger in the train car. She pulled her cell­phone from her bag, she tes­ti­fied.

“Are you go­ing to Glen­mont?” she said the other pas­sen­ger asked.

She nod­ded and re­turned to her phone. The man asked if she had a boyfriend, she told jurors, be­fore he sud­denly showed her a fold­ing knife with a four-inch blade.

“He grabbed me off from my seat,” she tes­ti­fied, de­scrib­ing how she was pulled to­ward a par­ti­tioned seat at the end of the car. “I grabbed his knife to pull it away from my body . . . and I felt a burn­ing sen­sa­tion from my hand.”

Her words, steady un­til then on the wit­ness stand, grew halt­ing.

“He said,” she be­gan, paus­ing for nine sec­onds, “he said, ‘Pull down your pants.’ ”

She em­ployed del­i­cate words to de­scribe the at­tack she said she en­dured, un­til Fen­ton gen­tly asked her to be more spe­cific.

She talked of plead­ing and pray­ing.

“Please don’t do this to me,” she re­mem­bered say­ing. “Please don’t hurt me.”

“Just do what I say,” she said the man said, “and I will not hurt you.”

The woman took a no­tice­able pause in her tes­ti­mony. Cir­cuit Judge Ch­eryl McCally called for a 10-minute break.

Back on the stand, the vic­tim spoke of how the at­tack ended sev­eral sta­tions from where she said it had be­gun and of how she pulled a tis­sue from her bag and spit into it be­fore the man fi­nally left the Metro car. She walked out of the train onto a plat­form in a daze, she told jurors, as she said what she re­called hear­ing.

“She’s not talk­ing,” some­one said. “She’s bleed­ing.”

“Please, please don’t leave,” she re­called telling a stranger on the plat­form. “Please keep me safe.”

A short time later, a Metro po­lice of­fi­cer was speak­ing with her, tes­ti­mony showed.

The train was on its way back to Wash­ing­ton and de­tec­tives were about to start ur­gently look­ing at surveil­lance record­ings and hunt for the train car she’d been in.

Dur­ing cross ex­am­i­na­tion, Sa­man­tha San­dler, an­other at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Hicks, chal­lenged de­scrip­tions of the at­tacker the woman had pro­vided to po­lice and at a hospi­tal. He was an African Amer­i­can man, bald, no fa­cial hair, and about 5-foot, 4-inches to 5foot, 6-inches tall, as San­dler re­counted the woman’s state­ments.

But as Hicks’s at­tor­neys had pre­vi­ously noted to jurors, their client was about five inches taller, was not bald and had fa­cial hair. The vic­tim coun­tered that English is not her first lan­guage and that she had equated the word “bald” with closely cropped hair.

In her clos­ing ar­gu­ment Fri­day, San­dler also ques­tioned the foren­sic value of the tis­sue be­cause it had been on the train floor for hours.

“How many peo­ple stepped on that tis­sue?” San­dler said to jurors.

Fen­ton, one of the pros­e­cu­tors, coun­tered that the de­tec­tives found the tis­sue in good shape and used it to ex­tract DNA for test­ing.

Even be­fore the trial, the Red Line case in 2016 drew at­ten­tion.

Pub­lic no­tice of the rape aboard a train sur­faced only af­ter news re­porters were tipped off to the in­ci­dent more than a month af­ter it oc­curred. Metro had not an­nounced the in­ci­dent to the pub­lic, out­rag­ing rid­ers and of­fi­cials.

Af­ter Hicks’s ar­rest on the rape charge, it be­came clear in court fil­ings that Metro Tran­sit Po­lice had iden­ti­fied him as a sus­pect in a sep­a­rate Red Line in­ci­dent of in­de­cent ex­po­sure but had not im­me­di­ately sought to ar­rest him.

In the rape trial, Hicks is charged with first-de­gree rape, first-de­gree sex of­fense and first-de­gree as­sault.

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