Fifteen years have passed since a 19-year-old Chantilly woman was brutally raped by two masked men who threatened her with a knife. But justice has finally come to one of them, Donald Harmon Roper.
LAST FRIDAY in Fairfax County Circuit Court, he was sentenced to 115 years in prison. And Troy Darrell Holland — who police believe was the second man — is currently on trial here for his alleged role in the crime.
The incident occurred Nov. 2, 1991, around 4:15 a.m. The victim, whose identity Centre View is not revealing, had just arrived home at the Shenandoah Crossing Apartments in Chantilly when two men grabbed her, forced her back into her car, drove to another spot and raped her.
She reported the crime to police and DNA evidence was collected from her. But since she never saw her attackers' faces, there were no suspects and the case went unsolved for years.
However, a positive DNA match in February 2005 led to the arrest of Roper, 40, of Fredericksburg. And after a three-day trial in Circuit Court, on May 3, the jury found him guilty of rape, abduction with intent to defile, robbery and two counts of forcible sodomy and recommended he be sentenced to 120 years in prison.
In court Friday, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Sullivan beseeched Judge Kathleen MacKay to impose the jury's recommendation. "This is one of the most brutal acts that can be performed against a woman," he said. "You not only take away her dignity, but her freedom and peace of mind."
"There should be punishment, and we should remember the victim in this," continued Sullivan. "There's no hope of rehabilitation because someone who does this has a core of evil."
At the time of the crime, Roper lived at Shenandoah Crossing with his pregnant wife and young daughter. He claimed he met the victim there at a party and they had consensual sex.
But her version was far different, and the evidence and a witness bore out her words. She's now married, is a mother of two and lives in Maine. But in November 1991, she'd lived in Chantilly just 2 1/2 weeks.
She was training as a United Airlines reservation agent at the call center in Sterling. After her shift ended around midnight, she joined a few friends for a casual get-together at a nearby apartment. Then she drove her 1986 Nissan Sentra home to Chantilly.
"There were no parking spaces near my apartment, so I parked in a nearby lot," she testified in court. "Immediately after getting out of my vehicle, two men approached me. They had shiny material on their faces and rubber gloves on their hands. I attempted to scream, and one man grabbed me, put his hand on my mouth and told me to be quiet."
WHEN SHE asked what they wanted with her, "They said they wanted my car," said the woman. "I told them to take it. I tried to scream but, again, they put a hand over my mouth. They tried to get me into the car. I fought back as much as I could."
But, she said, "They told me it wasn't nice to scream and I should cooperate. The taller one, in the driver's seat, said, 'Make her shut up; if not, get the knife.' The shorter individual was in the back seat with me." Police believe Holland was the taller man, and Roper, the shorter.
The victim said they drove for five to 10 minutes before stopping. She said the shorter man told her to take off all her clothes, and she complied, shedding her white silk blouse, jeans, belt and shoes.
When Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ian Rodway asked her why she obeyed the men, she answered, "I was terrified. Up until that point, I thought I was going to be killed. Rape had never entered my mind. I [complied] because I thought I'd be hurt less."
As the sexual assault by the shorter man began, said the woman, "I began crying and said I didn't want to do it. Then ... I was forced to." She said both men violated her and the shorter man raped her twice.
Afterward, they drove her to Chantilly High, next to Shenandoah Crossing, and the shorter man went through her purse and stole items including her wallet, ATM card, checkbook and I.D.
She said he put a ballcap over her eyes so she couldn't see them when they took off their gloves and masks. After they fled, she realized she was near her apartment and she ran into the road and flagged down a small truck. She told the driver she'd been raped and needed help.
He escorted her to her apartment where she told her roommate and his girlfriend what happened. They called 911 and she called her parents. The police arrived and a sexual-assault exam was performed on the victim at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Police Det. R. J. Cline testified that he submitted the DNA samples taken from her, plus her clothing, for testing at the Division of Forensic Science Northern Laboratory in Fairfax. And police Sgt. J.D. Welsh stated that he found five pieces of rubber glove in the victim's car.
Also testifying was Christopher Larson, now of Oklahoma. However, in November 1991, he lived in this area and was an Army specialist stationed at Fort Myer. On Nov. 2, around 5 a.m., he was driving his truck near Shenandoah Crossing, on his way to go squirrel hunting with a staff sergeant.
"As I was leaving, a young lady came out and flagged me down," said Larson. "She was very distraught and upset." He then identified a photo of the victim as that woman.
"I STOPPED my pickup, rolled down my window and asked her what I could do," he said. "She was very emotional and said she'd just been raped. Her clothes looked 'misheaved' — like she'd just thrown them on. I asked her where she lived and I took her to her apartment."
Then the case went cold and years passed without a break until Roper was convicted of a felony in another jurisdiction and a sample of his DNA was entered into the Virginia DNA Data Bank. On Aug. 12, 2004, Det. Mark Pfeiffer submitted the 1991 forensic evidence, plus the victim's blouse, to the state lab for testing.
And in a Feb. 24, 2005 certificate of analysis, forensic scientist Karen Ambrozy wrote that the DNA profile obtained from this evidence was consistent with Roper's. In May 2005, police obtained another sample of his DNA for additional testing and then arrested him.
In court, Ambrozy testified that Roper's DNA profile was so rare that the chances of the DNA found on the victim belonging to anyone else but him were "one in greater than the population of the world — 6 billion."
The jury later found Roper guilty of all charges and recommended a prison sentence of 120 years — 60 for rape; 30, abduction; 20, oral sodomy; five, anal sodomy; and five, robbery.
He returned to court Friday, Dec. 1, for sentencing before Judge Kathleen MacKay. Defense attorney Douglas Kay, who had not represented Roper during the trial, noted that — since these offenses occurred prior to parole being abolished in 1995 — Roper would eventually be eligible for parole.
MacKay said he'd have to serve a minimum of 14 years before that could occur. And Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Sullivan vowed, "I'll be there, each and every time, fighting against it."
Calling 120 years an appropriate sentence, he told MacKay, "Judge, you heard the entire trial and how [the victim] was absolutely, unequivocally and violently violated by this defendant and his cohort in crime."
"He and the defendant knew each other and went to high school together, right?" she asked. "Yes, this is a team," replied Sullivan. "This is planned." As he spoke, the victim sat in the front row of the courtroom with tears in her eyes as her mother put her arm around her for comfort.
"THE JURY SPOKE," continued the prosecutor. "This was one mind coming together. They said he deserves 120 years and, Your Honor, you need to impose this. And he needs to live with it. Think about what [the victim] went through then and for the next 15 years. [Roper's] daughter is now 16; I wonder what he'd feel like if someone did that to her?"
Kay asked MacKay to consider suspending some of the sentence. He said Roper had "made the most of the past 15 years and worked hard for his family. Thirty years is adequate punishment in this case."
But, countered Sullivan, "I think there are other victims out there. He shouldn't get credit for living 15 years and not getting caught." Roper then stood and, crying, asked for mercy so he could return to his family as soon as possible.
But, said MacKay, "These crimes were heinous, and the facts in this case were truly horrendous. The jury heard this case, and I am giving you the jury's sentence." Her only deviation was to run the five-year robbery sentence concurrently with the rape, thereby sentencing Roper to 115 years, instead of 120.