By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2007
The Fairfax County prosecutor who agreed last week to reduce charges against a minister accused of raping and beating a woman, paving the way for a 16-month sentence and no requirement to register as a sex offender, did not tell her bosses or the victim that she had done so.
The sentence handed to the Rev. Eugene A. Marriott Jr., a pastor at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, was surprisingly light compared with those of other sexual assault cases heard in Fairfax, many veteran lawyers said. But the deal offered to Marriott by Assistant Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Toni S. Fay is what has the courthouse buzzing.
Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said he "had no idea" that the charges had been reduced four months after Marriott's conviction and that the victim "absolutely" should have been consulted: "That's Rule One. You just don't go and change a plea that the victim had agreed to." He said he had spoken to Fay but declined to say why she reduced the charges or failed to tell either the victim or the detective. Fay did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
At the sentencing, Fay said: "I wish Mr. Marriott well. I hope that his wife takes him back. I am very glad to see his church and his community are still supporting him."
Horan said he was stunned. "The function of a criminal prosecutor is to point out how bad the crime is," Horan said. "It's not a social partnership with the defense."
Marriott, 43, who was the "minister to men" at one of the country's largest AME churches until his suspension, was charged with rape, sodomy, abduction with intent to defile and malicious wounding. In November, as his trial was about to begin, Marriott decided to enter pleas to abduction with intent to defile, carrying a 20-year minimum, and a reduced charge of unlawful wounding, with Fay agreeing to dismiss the rape and sodomy charges.
Lawyers who have defended accused rapists thought this was a fair outcome, as did the victim and Horan.
"It made sense," Horan said, "because she was going to go through a lot of torture on the witness stand because of their prior activity," which involved sexual role-playing and spanking.
But at some point, Marriott's attorney, Bobby B. Stafford, contacted Fay and told her that Marriott did not want to register as a sex offender, which the abduction charge would require him to do. On Feb. 27, Fay wrote to Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Stanley P. Klein, advising him that she had contacted Stafford "in an effort to resolve this matter" without specifying what the matter was.
With sentencing set for March 16, the two sides decided to appear in court March 14. The victim said she was not told. In this hearing, according to court records, Fay allowed Marriott to withdraw his plea to abduction with intent to defile and plead guilty to simple abduction, under which no sentence or up to a term of 10 years can be given. The lesser count does not require him to register as a sex offender.
In addition, the rape and sodomy charges were amended to misdemeanor sexual battery charges, also with no registration requirement, according to the records.
Two days later, neither the lawyers nor the judge mentioned the changed charges during the sentencing.
"I was shocked," the victim, 35, said of the reduction in charges. "I was angry with the sentence. But to see [the charges reduced], it felt like a slap in the face, that I wasn't notified about any of that."
Marriott was arrested by Fairfax City police outside the Best Western Motel on Route 123 in January 2006. Police said that he was pulling up his pants and that the victim, badly bruised and bloodied, was lying at his feet.
The victim told police that she and Marriott had had a relationship for three months that included sexual role-playing and spanking. But she said they had broken up weeks before their encounter in the parking lot of the motel.
She testified that she did not want to have sex with Marriott and that he grew explosively angry. She said Marriott threw her against his car, began hitting her with his belt, then slung her to the ground and forced her to perform oral sex. He then raped her, she said, while "I was begging him to stop."
She then climbed into Marriott's car, hoping he would take her home, but instead he drove her to the other side of the hotel. She told police that he beat her, threw her to the ground and raped her again, then forced her to perform oral sex again. Police, summoned by a witness, interrupted that act and arrested the minister. Photos of her injuries show the woman was severely bruised on her legs and back and had deep gashes on her arms.