A 20-year-old Fairfax County man was convicted yesterday of sexually assaulting a lone female passenger on a Metro car one night in May as she screamed and tried to grab the emergency lever during the six-minute ride between the King and Van Dorn street stations.
Ramananda Hamilton entered a plea in the attempted forcible sodomy case after the prosecutor described how Hamilton terrified a 29-year-old hotel manager about 11 p.m. May 11 on her way home to Prince William County from her job in the District.
"She jumped up and reached behind her to pull an emergency lever," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Molly Frio told the Alexandria Circuit Court judge. "The defendant grabbed her by her shoulder, preventing her from calling for help. . . . She fell to the floor."
Hamilton, of the 7200 block of Beverly Park Drive in Springfield, entered a plea in which he did not admit guilt to the felony charge but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. Chief Circuit Court Judge Donald Haddock accepted the plea and scheduled sentencing for Oct. 7. Hamilton faces up to 10 years in prison.
After the hearing, Frio said the sexual assault was the first she knew of on a Metro train in Alexandria. Metro Transit Police said that attempted forcible sodomy is rare on the trains and that the 15 other sexual assaults that have occurred on trains during the first six months of this year--down from 18 this time last year--were all unlawful touchings.
"We don't have much crime anyway," said Polly Hanson, deputy chief of Metro Transit Police, "and we certainly don't have crime like this. . . . That's why we're so happy to catch this perpetrator."
When she scrambled off the train at the Van Dorn station, the woman was crying and vomiting but still able to give a detailed description of her attacker. It was broadcast over the police radio, Frio said, and officers apprehended Hamilton at the next station.
The Washington Post has a policy of not identifying sexual assault victims.
In an interview yesterday, the woman said she became apprehensive the moment she realized her train car was emptying at King Street and Hamilton hopped on just as the doors were closing.
"Oh my God, I'm the only one on the train," the woman said to herself. "When he got on, I just had a weird feeling."
The woman said she could feel the man looking her over, so she took a quick personal inventory and tried to inconspicuously rotate her engagement ring, hoping he wouldn't notice the two-carat diamond. Then she remembered all the checks she had in her purse--presents she and her fiance had received for their wedding, just two days away.
"I started looking around and figuring out emergency routes," she said. "All this was going on in about three minutes."
She located the red emergency lever behind her head and started memorizing the man's features, in case she needed to give police a description, she said. Then she started feeling guilty for even having such thoughts.
"I was thinking: Why am I doing this, just because he's a young black guy?" said the woman, who is also African American. She closed her eyes briefly and said a prayer. Then he pounced.
She reached for the emergency lever, but the man pulled her to the floor. He slipped into her seat and forced her head between his legs.
"I was screaming," said the woman, who could see people in cars way ahead of hers. "But nobody could hear me."
The man stripped off his pants and pressed the back of her neck tightly with his fingers, making her feel weak, she said.
When the train arrived at Van Dorn, another passenger rushing past on the platform heard her scream and pulled her to safety.
Metro's Hanson said that in an emergency a rider should try to reach the intercom located at the back of each car or open the back door to escape to another car. The emergency red lever the victim reached for would have opened the car's side doors, "but that is not something we would advocate in a situation like this," Hanson said.
The victim praised transit police for their quick actions and gave them a thank-you card with a photo from her wedding. Even so, she said: "I'll never take Metro again. Never."