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UVa grad student accused of rape wins pretrial release

After more than two weeks behind bars, the former University of Virginia graduate student recently indicted for raping an undergraduate schoolmate last fall won pretrial release Friday.

His lawyer convinced Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins to let 22-year-old Derek Rodriguez-Contreras go back to his Fry’s Spring-area apartment wearing an electronic monitor and leave the premises only for hearings and meetings with counsel.

"I realize that’s very restrictive," said Higgins, "but it’s warranted under the circumstances."

Opposing bail, prosecutor Susan Baumgartner noted that the young man’s apartment is where the alleged rape took place. And asserting that the New York City native has been suspended from his studies as a graduate student at UVa’s McIntire School of Commerce, she described him as a flight risk.

"There is concern that he would not appear," said Baumgartner.

By contrast, Anthony Martin, the lawyer for Rodriguez-Contreras, portrayed his client as a local resident since 2019 who was enrolled in a prestigious graduate program and lined up a job this fall in the Northern Virginia community of McLean.

"We have a young man who’s obviously very accomplished," said Martin.

According to court records, the alleged rape occurred on Sept. 22. His client has no prior criminal record, and the incident involved another UVa student, Martin said.

"This wasn’t a stranger situation," said Martin.

However, Baumgartner pushed back at any attempt to downplay the incident which caused a grand jury to lodge two felony charges, rape and malicious wounding, along with a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery.

"This was a violent rape," she said.

Baumgartner said the victim promptly reached out to others and sought medical treatment the next morning. And while a formal report may not have been made until November, Baumgartner said the young man’s interview with a police investigator, which his defense called "cooperative," was actually damning.

"He did confirm a great deal of the allegations," said Baumgartner, "even down to confirming the bite wounds on the victim’s arm, which is the basis of the malicious wounding charge."

Baumgartner also informed the court that after Rodriguez-Contreras was questioned about the local charges proceeded to involve himself in a Dec. 30 incident in New York City, where he now faces a trio of misdemeanor sex crime charges.

"The fact that he would be in that position so soon after being questioned about a rape," said Baumgartner. "We believe there is a continued risk to the commonwealth."

In granting home electronic incarceration, the judge added several conditions, including a ban on any female visitors to the Jefferson Ridge apartment complex, regardless of whether they’re visiting Rodriguez-Contreras or his roommate, a young man who sat in the courtroom gallery Friday with the defendant’s mother.

"No children, no adults, no sisters, no one," declared Higgins, asking the roommate if he understood.

The roommate nodded, and Rodriguez-Contreras, dressed in a jail jumpsuit, was led out of the courtroom moments later.

The defense lawyer expressed hope for a prompt trial, but the date won’t be set until a scheduling hearing known as "docket call" that will take place on the first day April.

Earlier during Friday’s hearing, Rodriguez-Contreras won the right to spend public money on a private investigator to assist with his defense. The judge approved the firm of O’Donnell & Pittman for up to 50 hours of research at $100 an hour, an expense that could reach $5,000. The firm’s principal, Brian O’Donnell, is a former Charlottesville police officer.

Rodriguez-Contreras’ rape charge, which can bring a life sentence if convicted, is the most serious charge the defendant is facing. In New York, Rodriguez-Contreras faces three charges, the most serious of which, the forcible touching of intimate parts, carries a maximum sentence of one year behind bars. His next hearing in that case is set for April 24.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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