Witness to Fatal Beating in Va. Is Sentenced to 3 Years in Prison

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 27, 2006

Stephen Covington Jr. did not swing the baseball bat that killed 17-year-old Cheri Washington and the fetus inside her. Instead, he did nothing, nothing to stop it, and that was his crime, the prosecution and defense agreed yesterday at the Prince William County Courthouse.

Covington, of Dale City, had faced charges of murder of a pregnant woman, abduction and grand larceny but was allowed to plead guilty to two counts of assault and one count of petty larceny -- all misdemeanors.

Both sides, once outside the courtroom, painted a picture of a teenager paralyzed as Washington, his best friend, was bound and beaten by his cousin, Carlos D. Williams, 27. Last month, Covington testified against Williams, who was convicted of murder and faces the possibility of life in prison.

"Carlos Williams was much older, much more streetwise," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney James A. Willett said of Covington's reticence. "We think he was primarily intimidated into not acting. He just failed to intervene."

Covington's attorney, Samuel D. Flournoy, said his client has been struggling emotionally to deal with what happened last January.

Until then, Covington, who was 18 at the time, did not have a criminal record.

Yesterday, wearing a dark suit, he fidgeted and swiveled in his chair as the defense and prosecution presented the Circuit Court judge with the plea agreement. He said little and declined to make a final statement when Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. asked him whether he wanted to.

Afterward, his attorney spoke on his behalf.

"He definitely expressed regrets about what happened. I know he wishes he could have done more," Flournoy said. "He said it was a tragedy, and his heart goes out to the family."

Covington was sentenced to 36 months, to be served at the Prince William jail, where Williams is awaiting sentencing in May. The larceny charge was an outstanding count for stealing a car in December 2004. The prosecution reserved the right to charge him later -- if his record warrants it -- with murder of a fetus, which carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison for a conviction.

"He sort of has that specter hanging over him for the rest of his life," Flournoy said.

As she left the courtroom, Washington's mother, Joanna Washington, was overcome by a mix of emotions. Although she was grateful that Covington had testified, she said, "he was my kid's best friend."

"He wants to make a life for himself," she said, tears flowing. "But my daughter can't make a life no more."

Covington had testified that after Williams, a former teacher, had sex with Washington, a senior at C.D. Hylton High School, the beating began. Williams tied her wrists and ankles with duct tape, pounded her stomach with a baseball bat and then stomped on her with boots while she was naked, Covington testified.

"She was like, 'Steve, tell him don't kill me. I don't want to die,' " Covington testified. "I was like, 'He's not going to kill you.' "

Washington, who was five or six months pregnant, and her fetus, died the next day at a hospital.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company