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Evidence mounts against man accused of abducting UVa student

James Robert Allen faces a growing array of evidence as investigators build a criminal case against the 40-year-old Suffolk resident accused of abducting a young female University of Virginia student earlier this month.

The night of Oct. 4, Allen appears to have left behind a trail of evidence after wrecking a pickup truck against a tree trunk in a fraternity house yard at the corner of Grady and Cabell avenues in Charlottesville and fleeing the scene to Louisa County — where he was ultimately apprehended.

"This is what the police dream of," veteran criminal defense attorney Scott Goodman told The Daily Progress. "It sounds like good police work and good citizen involvement."

The evidence includes GPS data from the work truck that Allen is accused of using to kidnap the young woman as she was walking along a residential street, according to a document filed in the case. That data led police to determine that the truck and Allen had been at the Ruckersville Sheetz convenience store two hours before the incident.

In a 6:42 a.m. Facebook post on Oct. 5, Charlottesville police released the name of their suspect along with a surveillance image of a man wearing an American flag hat as he walked near a Sheetz "Beer Cave" cooling unit.

Along with a navy blue hoodie, an American flag hat was seized during the search of the truck Allen wrecked. Prior to that search, police also said they found Allen’s cellular phone with his identification card tucked into the case beside the abandoned truck.

"Those things tie him directly to that truck at the time of the crime," said Goodman. "That takes care of the identity defense, the idea that they got the wrong guy."

Items identified as the victim’s personal belongings, car keys and a pink backpack, were also found inside the cab of the wrecked truck.

A search warrant filed on Oct. 5 by a Charlottesville police detective and signed that afternoon by Judge Claude Worrell gave police access to the white Ford F450, which belonged to Curtis Construction Inc., a contractor for several Virginia Department of Transportation highway-expansion projects in the Charlottesville area. The affidavit supporting that warrant by detective Justin Bowers reveals additional allegations made by the victim, who is described by her initials: E.S.

"E.S. does not remember getting into the vehicle but does vaguely remember being inside of one," Bowers wrote. "This leads [me] to believe that she may have lost consciousness during the incident."

Bowers noted that E.S. was found injured.

"Her face was swollen, her cheeks appeared blue, and she had areas of road rash on her forehead, cheeks, and shoulders," Bowers wrote.

Such injuries are consistent with the previously reported account of the UVa professor who heard screaming from his bedroom window and who followed his adult daughter and her boyfriend as they chased the truck down the street before the victim was allegedly thrown from the vehicle shortly before it crashed.

"E.S. also had duct tape around her wrists when she was found," wrote Bowers, "but she could not recall how that had gotten there."

To Goodman, the legal analyst, the injuries and the eyewitness accounts will likely prevent the second option a defense lawyer might attempt: claiming a consensual encounter.

"There are only so many defenses," said Goodman, "and two of the main ones appear to be closed off."

The search warrant includes other allegations unlikely to win Allen any sympathy from potential jurors. For instance, the woman recalled that she was on a routine walk home when she suddenly choked.

"She had not seen him coming and was taken by complete surprise," Bowers wrote. "She began kicking and screaming, but the suspect told her to stop it and told her he was going to kill her."

When he made his last courtroom appearance on Oct 12 it was unknown whether Allen knew of the evidence lined up against him.

The hearing was solely to change lawyers.

"The public defender has a conflict," said attorney Nicholas Reppucci. "There’s no objection to the motion to substitute."

Allen stood in Charlottesville General District Court wearing orange plastic slippers, a waist chain and an unhappy expression.

Judge Andrew Sneathern agreed and appointed Michael Hallahan as Allen’s new counsel. Allen was not asked to speak or answer any questions at the hearing, and a bailiff led him away to the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he has been held without bail since his Oct. 5 arrest.

Goodman guesses that Allen’s lawyer may try some sort of psychological defense or attempt to strike a plea deal.

"The defense is really out of options," said Goodman. "Unless there’s some sort of mental incapacity or psychiatric problem, I don’t see any defense."

Even Allen’s own history is working against him, according to Goodman.

Allen has a prior abduction and malicious wounding arrest in Fauquier County. And while that case was resolved in 2009 with a misdemeanor assault and battery conviction, Allen has felony convictions for property crimes in Fauquier. Court records also show that in 2012, when Allen was still listing a Fauquier address, he was convicted of felony shoplifting in Albemarle County Circuit Court and given a three-year sentence with all time suspended.

Convictions on crimes of dishonesty, Goodman contended, will undercut any effort to testify in his own defense.

In this case, Allen stands accused of two felonies: strangulation and abduction. A strangulation conviction can bring a maximum five-year sentence while a conviction for abduction can bring 10 years.

Allen’s next appearance will likely be Dec. 14, the date Sneathern set for a preliminary hearing.


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