Suspect in Chantilly Sex Crimes Acquitted

Suspect in Chantilly Sex Crimes Acquitted

Prosecution’s case against Dinh disintegrates at preliminary hearing.

Jailed and charged with sexual battery and abduction with intent to defile, Hien The Dinh, 20, sat through his entire preliminary hearing, Sept. 18, in handcuffs. That’s because Fairfax County General District Court bailiffs considered him a flight risk.

Ultimately, though – even though his attorney agreed a sexual assault took place – she was able to make mincemeat out of the police investigation and the prosecution’s case. And at the end, the judge’s unexpected ruling to dismiss both charges came so quickly and with so little explanation, it left many in court asking each other, “Wait, what just happened?”

In early July, both TV and print media published stories about two sexual assaults in the Meadows of Chantilly mobile home park. One happened May 18, and the other, July 3. So when police developed Dinh as their suspect, arresting him July 6, Chief Kevin Davis held a press conference denigrating Dinh and praising his officers.

Police charged Dinh, of Stafford, with the July 3 offense and said they were investigating him for the May crime. But they never charged him with it; and in court, Sept. 18 – due to a combination of an inexperienced sex-crimes detective and the prosecution not bringing surveillance video to court as evidence – the case against Dinh simply collapsed.

At the start, the victim, 23, testified that on July 3, around 11:30 a.m., she and her mother had just returned home from shopping, when her mother went to knock on a friend’s door, leaving the young woman outside with her little brother in his stroller. 

Then, she said, via a Spanish-language interpreter, “A man came from behind me and touched all my intimate parts with one hand and tried to detain me with his other arm. He attempted to hold onto me, and I screamed with all my strength and didn’t let go of the stroller. I was paralyzed. He put his hands on my rear and on my vaginal area.” Crying, she added, “I was scared, afraid.

“I didn’t know him, and he didn’t say anything; I don’t know what his intentions were. After I screamed, he let go of me, and that’s when my mother turned around. I remained still; I didn’t know what to do but scream. When my mother saw him, he took off running.”

Under cross examination from Public Defender Dawn Butorac, the woman said everything occurred quickly. She described what the man was wearing but said she couldn’t tell what race he was because he wore a surgical mask. She said the touching was over her clothes but, because she was wearing short shorts made of thin material, “I could feel everything.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kate Steier then called police Det. Willmer Romero, with the Adult Sex Crimes Unit. He said he responded to the scene and was briefed by two other officers. He also said he interviewed Dinh on July 6, after police developed him as a “person of interest” in this case, and he pointed out Dinh in court.

Steier played part of that recorded interview for the court and entered it into evidence. In it, Dinh said he initially saw the woman in the shopping-center parking lot and started following her in his car. “I had a compulsion, and it overtook me,” he said. “So I followed her. I was trying not to, but it happened again. I started following her again, still fighting it.”

When Romero asked what that compulsion made him do, Dinh replied, “To assault her. I just slapped her butt and ran off.” He said he didn’t touch any other part of her, “just her shoulder.”

Butorac then asked the detective how long he’d been with the Sex Crimes Unit, and he said, “four or five months” and that he’d only investigated “three or four” such cases. Under her questioning, Romero also stated he didn’t ask Dinh to describe the victim, but Butorac said it was something important Romero should have done, since Dinh “could be sent to prison for life, if convicted.”

“Did you show him a picture of the victim?” she asked, to which Romero said no. “Don’t you think that might have been important?” she asked him.

“I guess,” he replied.

Steier asked Romero what the surveillance videos police obtained from the shopping-center businesses and from the neighborhood’s Ring cameras showed. Romero said they showed Dinh following the woman and her mother in his car. But Butorac objected because the prosecution didn’t bring those videos to court to show as evidence.

Butorac then asked Judge Dipti Pidikiti-Smith to drop Dinh’s charges, saying, “This was a simple assault; abduction has to be more intentional detaining. There was a touch, she screamed, he immediately let go. She said, ‘The other arm attempted to hold me. I don’t know what his intentions were.’”

“There has to be some intent to defile after an abduction, and some intent to abduct,” she continued. “This was a sexual assault – the defiling was done. But the detective didn’t show Mr. Dinh a picture of the victim or even ask what time of day it happened.”

Steier countered that Dinh “came from behind, grabbed her and held on, and [the woman] stated she could not move – she froze. It doesn’t matter if it’s quick or not. Holding onto her is separate from him touching her. The defendant talked about his compulsion and that he followed her and slapped her butt. Your Honor, there’s enough to certify these charges [to the grand jury].” 

But Butorac was adamant that “The Commonwealth failed to meet its burden of proof” and that the “identity [of the alleged assailant] wasn’t established.”

Pidikiti-Smith then dismissed both charges against Dinh. “The victim said she was held and then modified her answer,” said the judge. “While a crime was committed, there wasn’t sufficient evidence presented to connect this defendant to this victim.”