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Charlottesville rape case heading for trial
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Charlottesville rape case heading for trial

A rape case will proceed against a Charlottesville man following a preliminary hearing in the city’s General District Court on Thursday.

Lenny R. Dortch, 41, was arrested in December and charged with one felony count of abduction with intent to defile, one count of rape and two counts of felony use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. The charges stem from a Dec. 17 incident in which Dortch is accused to raping a woman near a Madison Avenue apartment building.

On Thursday, Dortch appeared in court via video feed from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. Dressed in the typical jail jumpsuit, Dortch remained quiet for most of the hearing, often looking down at his hands instead of the screen.

During the hearing, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Areshini Pather outlined much of the commonwealth’s evidence against Dortch and the events surrounding the charges.

Pather called Detective Jacob Bowlin from the Charlottesville Police Department to the stand, asking him a series of questions about the investigation and the allegations against Dortch.

According to Bowlin, he was called Dec. 17 to the scene of the attack, where he directed an officer to swab the 26-year-old female victim’s hands for DNA evidence. Later in the hearing, Bowlin said the DNA evidence on the victim’s hands was determined to match Dortch but that a warrant was later obtained for Dortch’s DNA, as well.

Reading from the victim’s report taken by a University of Virginia Medical Center physician on the night of the assault, Bowlin read aloud a narrative of the attack.

According to the victim’s report, she was attacked by a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and black pants soon after leaving a Madison Avenue gym around 9 p.m. Dec. 17. The man approached her, pointed a gun at her and threatened to kill her. He then took her to an area nearby concealed by bushes and proceeded to rape her, alternating between pointing the gun at her head or putting it in her mouth.

UVa physicians recorded injuries to the woman’s genitalia and mouth consistent with the sexual assault she described.

According to Bowlin, Dortch was arrested on Dec. 22 on a series of other charges, including probation violation and failing to register as a sex offender. After denying involvement with the sexual assault, Bowlin said audio recording equipment in the interrogation room recorded comments Dortch made after officers left the room.

“He said, ‘They got me, they got my DNA’ and he then repeated, ‘They got my DNA,’ and followed it up with, ‘That’s a wrap,’” Bowlin said.

When executing a search warrant at the address Dortch was inhabiting, Bowlin said officers found clothing matching the victim’s description.

During cross-examination, Dortch’s appointed attorney, Mike Hallahan, asked Bowlin why the police obtained a warrant for Dortch’s DNA if the first swab of the victim’s hands had been a match. Bowlin said the request for an additional DNA swab was made by the lab and he did not know why the request was made.

Bowlin also said Dortch had been a person of interest prior to the return of the DNA evidence due to footage from a nearby convenience store in the area that depicted him wearing clothing that matched the victim’s description.

Hallahan did not try to contest the probable cause standard for the rape and abduction charges, but did point to a lack of evidence of a firearm. No firearm was located or seized during the investigation, he said.

“He might have had a gun, he might not have had a gun; all we know is that the victim perceived a gun and no gun has been found,” Hallahan said.

Pather countered this argument, pointing to code sections and previous cases that evidence of a physical firearm is not necessary for the two firearms charges facing Dortch. Precedent indicates that only the threat of violence via an object of instrumentality is necessary, Pather said, sharing an example of someone sticking their hands into their pocket to imply they have a firearm.

After a brief recess, Judge Andrew Sneathern certified all four charges against Dortch. The case will now proceed to a Charlottesville Circuit Court grand jury on Aug. 16 and is pre-set for a three-day jury trial beginning Dec. 13.

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