Family members of Darrell D. Rice, 36, said yesterday that the Howard County man is not the "Route 29 stalker," the person law enforcement officials say tried to flag down and abduct more than a dozen women eight years ago along the Route 29 corridor between Prince William and Madison counties.
Rice's mother and sister said they do not understand why Rice has been charged in one of the cases, the abduction and malicious wounding of a 37-year-old Prince William County woman in February 1996.
"He was definitely shocked" when he was indicted in June, said Rice's sister, Dawn Metcalfe, 38, of Kent Island, Md. "The things that these prosecutors are saying is not the Darrell Rice we know."
Rice's mother, Lenna Mays, 65, also of Kent Island, added: "He's innocent without a doubt. He knows he's innocent. All of it's incorrect."
Their comments came yesterday after Rice was arraigned in Prince William County Circuit Court on charges of malicious wounding, abduction with intent to defile and robbery.
Rice's attorney, Claire Cardwell, told Judge William D. Hamblen that she wants the Dec. 6 trial moved out of Prince William. After yesterday's hearing, Cardwell said all the media coverage has made it difficult to empanel an objective jury.
In April 2002, federal prosecutors charged Rice with capital murder in the slayings of two lesbian hikers in the Shenandoah National Park, a case that was dropped earlier this year after DNA tests failed to link him conclusively to the deaths. The case generated additional media attention because it was the first time prosecutors invoked a 1994 law enabling them to seek harsher sentences for crimes targeting people's sexual orientation.
"Persecution as opposed to prosecution has become a way of life for Darrell," Cardwell said after the hearing. "There may have been things reported that were inaccurate or would not be permitted in the court. It's hard for the jury to have a clean palate."
Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) challenged that argument, saying after the hearing that media coverage of Rice has been relatively light. He called the request to change venue a defense strategy that could be used if Rice is convicted and files an appeal.
"I think we can get a fair and impartial jury," Ebert said. "There are certain cases that are legitimate, like the sniper case that should be [moved] elsewhere. The mere fact that [potential jurors in Prince William] heard about this case doesn't disqualify them."
Rice has been serving a sentence in a Petersburg, Va., prison for trying to abduct a female bicyclist in the Shenandoah National Park in 1997 and is due to be released in about three years. He faces up to life in prison if convicted at his December trial in Prince William.
In a news conference announcing Rice's indictment two months ago, Ebert said the attack, which occurred on Route 234 between Manassas and Woodbridge, is linked to the "Route 29 stalker" cases.
In February and March of 1996, more than a dozen abductions or abduction attempts occurred along the corridor, leaving female motorists anxious for months. Most of the incidents took place along a five- to 10-mile stretch between Culpeper and Madison counties, state police said.
On March 2, 1996, Alicia Showalter Reynolds, a 25-year-old Johns Hopkins pharmacology student, disappeared while driving her white Mercury Tracer on Route 29 to Charlottesville. Her body was found two months later, and investigators have said they believe her death is connected to the Route 29 cases. Rice has not been charged in her slaying.
A month earlier, the night of Feb. 24, 1996, the Prince William victim was driving home when she looked in her rear-view mirror and saw a driver in a truck flashing his lights, indicating that she should pull over for a possible emergency.
When she did, the man told her he saw sparks coming from underneath her vehicle and introduced himself as Larry, a tactic reported by other women stopped in the Route 29 stalker cases. While giving her a ride, the man pulled over, grabbed her around the head and forced her into his lap. As she struggled, he took her purse and shoved her out the door. The woman broke an ankle and suffered cuts.