Guilty Verdict In Attack on D.C. Vendor

James A. Dorsey, 47, faces up to 75 years in prison for the attack on Vasiliki Fotopoulos, now 84, near the Foggy Bottom Metro station.
James A. Dorsey, 47, faces up to 75 years in prison for the attack on Vasiliki Fotopoulos, now 84, near the Foggy Bottom Metro station. (Surveillance Camera)
By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2006

The man accused of beating and robbing an elderly vendor near the Foggy Bottom Metro station was convicted yesterday in D.C. Superior Court by a jury that was divided until the final few hours of its long deliberations.

James A. Dorsey, 47, faces up to 75 years in prison for the attack last year on the woman, now 84, that was recorded by a surveillance camera and replayed repeatedly on local television news.

But even with the video, a conviction appeared far from certain for the past few days, with jury deliberations spanning more than a week.

On Monday, their second full day of deliberations, the jurors told the judge that they could not reach a unanimous verdict. How the jurors were split was not evident from the note to the judge. They were instructed to continue deliberating, and they seemed to go back to work.

But at some point, the deliberations stalled because one juror apparently refused to participate, which came to light in a note from the jury Wednesday afternoon. Relying on a case in which a similar issue arose, Judge Henry F. Greene -- who was covering the case for Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. -- reminded the jurors that each of them had taken an oath and had an obligation to participate in the deliberations.

The jurors returned to the jury room late Wednesday afternoon and yesterday morning. Shortly before noon, the foreman advised the judge that the jury had reached a verdict.

Dorsey was found guilty of aggravated assault while armed, which carries a 30-year maximum penalty, and armed robbery of a senior citizen, which carries a 45-year maximum. Dressed in a white button-down shirt and dark slacks, Dorsey showed little expression after the verdict was delivered. But as the jury left the room, he remained seated even as his attorney and the prosecutor rose -- as is customary when jurors enter and exit a courtroom.

For the frail woman at the center of the case, the conviction was welcome news. Known as "Grandma" to many people who live and work around the Metro station in Northwest Washington, Vasiliki Fotopoulos was seated in her regular spot outside George Washington University Hospital yesterday afternoon. A supply of umbrellas sat on top of her cart beckoning commuters making their way under darkening skies.

But it was not an ordinary day. Television cameras hovered around her. Well-wishers stopped to congratulate her. "Thank you, thank you," Fotopoulos, a Greek immigrant who speaks only a little English, told everyone who approached her.

What seemed from the video to be an open-and-shut case against Dorsey turned out to have at least a few issues for his attorney to try to exploit. The video, seen by so many people, is grainy and was shot from an angle that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to conclusively identify Dorsey -- or the victim.

But even if the video was not conclusive, prosecutors thought they had a confession from Dorsey, who said in a videotaped interrogation that he attacked Fotopoulos on the afternoon of May 3, 2005. Dorsey's attorney, Larry Kupers of the D.C. Public Defender Service, attacked the statement, however, saying it was a false confession provided under intense pressure after hours of interrogation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan W. Haray said during the trial that Dorsey felt guilty and that his guilt led him to confess. "He felt bad for what he had done to her, and he wanted it off his chest, " Haray said.

A drifter with a record of arrests dating to 1984, Dorsey was in danger of missing a rent payment at a rooming house, Haray said. Dorsey was driven by that desperation, Haray said, to attack the vendor.

On the stand, the victim recounted through an interpreter the encounter, which broke bones in her face and left her hospitalized for about a month. But she has never been able to identify her attacker, and she was not asked to identify Dorsey in court. He will be sentenced July 20.

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