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Prosecutor drops case against Charlottesville man accused of groping woman on Rivanna Trail

The criminal case against the Charlottesville man accused of groping a woman on the Rivanna Trail has crumbled after exculpatory video came to light shortly before his Monday trial date.

The Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office filed a motion Thursday effectively ending the case hours after defense lawyer Rhonda Quagliana delivered a scathing motion accompanied by electronic evidence including video supporting what Patrick McNamara has been saying all along: He is an innocent man.

"This video sat there for months and could have exonerated this guy immediately," Quagliana told The Daily Progress Thursday.

The end of the high-profile case comes three months after a woman identified in court documents only by her initials, J.L., alleged that McNamara grabbed her buttocks while she was running on the trail bordering the Rivanna River on Jan. 12. McNamara was arrested six days later.

From the start, the 37-year-old technology executive who had recently moved to Charlottesville with his fiancée from Boston, contended that it was all a case of mistaken identity.

The commonwealth’s attorney’s office now agrees — to a point.

"There is no longer proof beyond a reasonable doubt to support this prosecution," Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William Tanner wrote in his motion to dismiss.

Tanner’s motion may kill the case, but it has not dampened the defense attorney’s indignation.

"That’s really outrageous," said Quagliana. "There really is no justification for how this case developed."

Her own motion is a scathing 14-page critique of the authorities.

"After months of stonewalling and resistance, the police and prosecuting attorneys have finally turned over video evidence conclusively proving Mr. McNamara did not commit this crime," Quagliana wrote.

That video evidence includes surveillance footage from Cosner Brothers Body Shop, located on East High Street adjacent to the Rivanna Trail.

Three videos show McNamara and the victim passing one another uneventfully about three minutes before the alleged attack, the timing of which has been supported by the victim’s text messages and her Strava running app.

Quagliana noted in her motion that GPS data from McNamara’s phone, seized the day of his arrest, and key fob data from his apartment building on nearby River Road show that McNamara was back at his dwelling at the time the woman’s buttocks was reportedly grabbed.

"The videos do not simply create reasonable doubt," Quagliana wrote in her motion. "They demonstrate without question what Mr. McNamara maintained all along — he was innocent."

Quagliana pointed out that the victim alleged that her attacker was wearing a puffy, white jacket, but the videos clearly show McNamara wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt. A search warrant for his apartment, she says, confirmed what he told investigators, that he didn’t own a jacket, white or otherwise.

Three of the Cosner Brothers videos show something else intriguing. Another man can be seen, a few minutes later, walking through the frame from the direction of the attack and wearing a puffy, white jacket.

The man in the jacket can be seen lingering in view of Cosner’s cameras for about 15 minutes and chatting with other people. All the while, Quagliana notes, McNamara was in a video meeting with work colleagues.

While the nonprofit Innocence Project asserts that nearly 70% of wrongful criminal convictions undone by DNA were the result of faulty identification, Tanner noted in his own motion that the victim reported being "100% positive" McNamara was the culprit.

Quagliana fired back that the photographs policed used to identify her client as their primary suspect were grainy shots made by friends of the victim, members of a local "running group." Did members of that running group engage in groupthink and inadvertently target the wrong man? Quagliana seems to think so.

"The running group celebrated their amateur detective work," Quagliana wrote in her motion, "cheering themselves for making sure no other woman became a victim of the assailant."

If the runners could be excused for deviating from professional investigative standards, the police have no such excuse, Quagliana suggested.

"The police never conducted a line up or photo identification that complied with best practices," she wrote. "Confirmation bias polluted the case."

While Quagliana’s motion may not have triggered any apologies, it did spur McNamara’s landlord, Charlottesville-based Management Services Corporation, to promise to drop its eviction proceedings against him.

"This has been an unfortunate series of events," MSC spokesman Stephen Colvin told The Daily Progress in an email Thursday. "We are continuing to follow the guidance of legal counsel and respond as new information becomes available."

The new information suggests that an actual assailant is still at large.

"We will continue to investigate this case," Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis told The Daily Progress Thursday.

Having given a radio interview in late January attesting to the quality of the investigation, he now says that the case has prompted some introspection.

"We’re absolutely going to look at what we did," said Kochis. "If we identify any issues, we will absolutely fix them."

One question Kochis sidestepped Thursday was his department’s delay in providing the video evidence. In his motion to dismiss, the assistant commonwealth’s attorney put the blame on an unnamed police investigator who collected the video because that person never prepared a "supplement" to document what the video contained.

"He reviewed the video and told the case agent that nothing of value was captured on it," Tanner wrote. "The video was never turned over to the Commonwealth and therefore this office had no knowledge of its existence until April 9."

Tanner wrote that once he realized the video existed, he immediately made a copy and gave it to Quagliana.

"The police are on the hook for this," legal analyst Scott Goodman told The Daily Progress. "I’m sure the commonwealth’s attorney’s office is furious."

"As prosecutors, we are responsible for all evidence in the possession of law enforcement even if we had no knowledge the evidence existed," Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania told The Daily Progress Thursday.

As for the citizen sleuths: The Daily Progress reached out to two of them Thursday via social media without any response.

Quagliana says there’s still an attacker out there, which she also says should have been obvious on Jan. 12 after a second woman reported being grabbed later in the day. That woman did not identify McNamara as her attacker; moreover, McNamara was in another video conference call at the time, Quagliana said.

She described what McNamara went through as a nightmare: His mugshot was distributed to the press, his name was dragged through the mud, his employer put him on leave, his landlord forced him out of his home — all before any trial had taken place.

"Patrick was treated terribly," said Quagliana. "Any system that functions like this is broken."

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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