Judge Denies Media Access To Rape Case
Preliminary Hearing Today For Two Teens Accused Of Assaulting Woman At Knifepoint
Posted: December 11, 2012
HARRISONBURG — A Rockingham County judge ruled Monday not to allow the media in the courtroom at today’s preliminary hearing for two Harrisonburg teens accused of violently raping a woman at knifepoint in her apartment in October.
During a hearing in Rockingham County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, Judge David O’Donnell cited his concern about whether the defendants could get a fair trial, given the Daily News-Record’s previous publication of the defendants’ names and the possibility that the victim’s name would be published.
“I really agonized over this [decision],” he said, adding that he was alarmed when he saw the defendants’ names in the newspaper. “It gave me pause. There’s no restraint other than the editorial restraint.”
The DN-R’s policy is not to publish the victim’s name in a sexual assault case, said Rob Longley, city editor of the Daily News-Record.
The newspaper’s policy on naming juvenile defendants varies from case to case, Longley said. Factors used to determine whether to publish a juvenile’s name include the age of the defendant, the seriousness of the crime and the weight of the evidence against them.
Attorneys for the defendants filed a motion asking O’Donnell to bar the media from attending the court hearing, saying their clients could not get a fair trial with the media coverage.
During Monday’s hearing, representatives from the DN-R, WHSV-TV3 and radio station WSVA argued the preliminary hearing should be open to the media due to the seriousness of the allegations and the public’s right to know about court proceedings involving violent crimes.
“We have two young men who stand accused of a particularly heinous offense,” Longley told the judge. “The Daily News-Record has attended previous hearings on the case in juvenile court and the public is well aware of the identity of these defendants. The idea that another story about the case will adversely affect their chance for a fair trial is far-fetched.”
On Oct. 22, Judge Marvin Hillsman ruled that the media had a right to be present for the defendants’ first appearance and detention hearing.
During that hearing, the defendants’ names were made public, as well as the evidence against them.
The DN-R and WHSV-TV3 were present for that hearing. The newspaper decided to publish the defendants’ names but the television station did not. Representatives from the television and radio stations told the judge their policy is to report a juvenile’s name only when there is a conviction as an adult.
Brandon Valentin and Darien Vasquez, both 16, are charged with breaking into a 22-year-old woman’s residence on Bradley Drive in the Hunters Ridge complex in October and robbing and repeatedly raping her at knifepoint.
Vasquez is charged with 17 felonies, including two counts of rape, four counts of forcible sodomy, armed robbery and abduction.
Valentin is charged with 13 felonies, including rape, principal in the second degree to rape, armed robbery and abduction.
Prosecutors say officers responded to the 1400 block of Bradley Drive early on the morning of Oct. 20 for a report of a sexual assault and armed robbery. Police say that Valentin and Vasquez, who were stopped and arrested a couple of blocks away a short time later, confessed to the crimes during interviews with investigators.
Investigators say they left the two juveniles in an interview room alone as a video camera recorded the pair laughing and joking about the rape.
The two teens are being held at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Detention Center in Verona.
Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst said she plans to prosecute the juveniles as adults.
If O’Donnell finds probable cause in the case today, it will be sent to a Rockingham County grand jury to consider issuing indictments in the case. If convicted as adults, the teens face up to life in prison.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org