Commonwealth Chronicle

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Posts Tagged ‘Alford plea

VMI cadet pleads guilty to sexual battery, won’t serve jail time

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Stephen Lloyd (Copyright 2009 Rockbridge County Jail)

Stephen Lloyd (Copyright 2009 Rockbridge County Jail)

By Cameron Steele

A former Virginia Military Institute cadet who faced a jury trial on felony rape and sodomy charges pleaded guilty Tuesday to a lesser charge of sexual battery.

Stephen Lloyd, 22, won’t face sentencing on the misdemeanor conviction for three years. If he stays out of trouble, he most likely won’t serve any jail time, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Bucky Joyce.

The misdemeanor sexual battery charge and delayed sentencing are part of a plea agreement that Rockbridge County Circuit Judge Michael Irvine accepted at a hearing on the eve of Lloyd’s jury trial, which was supposed to start Wednesday.

“We all feel [the plea agreement] is a good conclusion to the case because no one is completely happy with it,” Joyce told the judge.

Lloyd’s guilty plea was a so-called “Alford” plea, meaning that he did not admit guilt for all aspects of the crime. Instead, the plea means that Lloyd accepts that there is enough evidence to convict him if the case went to trial.

The case began last March when a female cadet at VMI accused Lloyd of raping and sodomizing her. At the time, Lloyd was a cadet at VMI.

Plea negotiations between Joyce and Lloyd’s defense attorneys began late Monday night and resumed Tuesday morning, continuing until almost 4 p.m., when the two sides told Irvine they had reached an agreement.

Joyce said the female cadet was consulted throughout the negotiation process. She decided to accept a plea agreement because she realized “what a tough case it would be,” he said in an interview.

On the morning of March 29, the female cadet, 21, reported to the VMI infirmary that she had been sexually assaulted by Lloyd. She later repeated her accusations to VMI police and was taken to Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital for a physical examination. As part of its protocol, VMI alerted Project Horizon, a Lexington-based agency that counsels cadets and others who report assaults.

Joyce told the judge that the female cadet took a few days to consider whether to press charges against Lloyd. She decided to pursue the charges, and Lloyd was arrested on April 1. A grand jury indicted Lloyd on rape and sodomy charges in July.

In an interview after Tuesday’s hearing, Joyce said he was torn about whether the evidence was strong enough to prosecute the case.

“This has been the most difficult case I’ve been involved in,” he said. “She maintained all along she’d been assaulted, but the corroborating evidence all along was weak.”

Joyce said that while scientific analysis of a swab taken from the female cadet’s neck suggested the presence of Lloyd’s DNA, no other swabs taken from anywhere on her body matched Lloyd.

Before the assault, she also had had an intimate relationship with Lloyd and had been drinking alcohol on that night — key facts that weakened the prosecution’s case, Joyce said.

“Basically, it all comes down to her testimony,” the prosecutor said during the hearing.

Joyce said his evidence would have shown:

On the night of March 28, the female cadet went to bed at about 10:30 p.m. in her barracks room, which she shared with two other cadets. A couple of hours later, Lloyd came into the room and woke her. He also sent two text messages to her cell phone, but the female cadet didn’t get the messages until later.

Lloyd asked her to smoke a cigarette with him outside the barracks, and she agreed. On their way back inside, Lloyd kissed her outside the trunk room, a basement area where cadets store their luggage. She kissed him back.

Joyce said it was unclear whether the female cadet entered the trunk room willingly.

For the next 45 minutes, the prosecutor said, Lloyd performed various “sex acts” on the female cadet against her will.

As Joyce summarized what she would have testified, the female cadet began to cry. The court bailiff handed her a box of tissues. Two of her friends, a woman and the male cadet who first convinced her to go to the infirmary after the assault, sat on either side of her and patted her shoulders.

Lloyd kept his eyes on the judge throughout the hearing. He wore a navy suit and spoke only when the judge asked him questions, answering “yes sir.”

When Joyce finished summarizing the evidence, he said the misdemeanor sexual battery charge and three-year sentencing delay were a sufficient compromise in the case.

Cary Bowen, one of Lloyd’s defense attorneys, said in court that they were ready for trial.

“We had many witnesses,” he said. “It would be hotly contested whether it [the sexual acts] was consensual or not.”

Joyce said Lloyd was dismissed from VMI after the charges were filed and did not graduate. In an interview, Lloyd said he lives in Mason Neck. He said he plans to move to Richmond to work as a helicopter mechanic and take flight lessons to become a pilot.

The female cadet returned to VMI this fall to finish her senior year. After the hearing, she rushed out of the courtroom with her two friends and could not be stopped to comment.