Edith Nwosu hadn’t seen the rapist since he crawled into her bathroom stall at Montgomery College 18 months ago — and even then, he’d worn a scarf over his face.
In a Montgomery County courtroom Friday, she stood and stared at him. It was Nathaniel Hart’s day to be sentenced.
“From the moment that you stepped foot into that bathroom, my whole life changed,” said Nwosu, 20, telling herself not to cry, not to let Hart, 36, see her in the vulnerable manner he’d left her. “What you did was a disgrace to your species.”
Moments later, Circuit Court Judge Eric Johnson sentenced Hart to 90 years in prison under terms that allow parole only with the governor’s signature — a prospect that generally keeps Maryland prisoners locked up for life.
Hart did not take it well.
“Oh God!” he shouted over and over, 36 times, before Johnson ordered him handcuffed and removed from the courtroom.
The terror of the attack was evident in the initial accounts after Hart’s arrest: He told Nwosu that he had a gun, raped her once, hugged her, cried, speculated that he was going to hell, raped her again and fled. Additional details surfaced Friday in court and in an interview with the victim after the hearing.
Inside that stall, after about 45 minutes, Hart told Nwosu to turn around. Petrified that he was going to kill her, she managed to get ahold of her cellphone and sent text messages to her sister.
“Help me. This guy is raping me,” she typed several times, moving her fingers as fast as she could and telling her sister the building and floor she was in.
Law enforcement officials confirmed that she wrote the texts. The Washington Post typically does not identify victims of sexual assaults, but Nwosu allowed her name to be used in hopes of drawing more attention to what can happen to women even when they feel safe.
“This is capable of happening to anyone, and no one is untouchable,” she said. “People can be vicious anywhere, anywhere that you feel most comfortable.”
On Jan. 26, 2010, that place was the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus of Montgomery College. Nwosu planned to study psychology and perhaps become a counselor. She was 19 at the time, her first semester at the college, and she had just completed her first Introduction to Human Communications class before going into a second-floor restroom.
In court Friday, while speaking to the assailant, she harkened back to her mind-set at the time.
“What you did to me made me feel as if I was a failure,” she said. “You took [away] the joy, the pride, the ambition that I had the day that I was getting started for school.”
Inside the stall, Hart seemed unconcerned about being caught.
“I felt like my first day in school would be my last day on Earth,” Nwosu said.
But her sister received the texts and called police. Hart finally left about the same time.
Nwosu said that after getting out of the bathroom, she could see from a window that the officers were converging on the building.
But Hart managed to escape through a loading dock just before their arrival. Officers and a police dog tracked him, following his trail into a condominium fitness room and an area business. Within hours officers were canvassing the nearby Days Inn, on 13th Street. They noticed one of the doors ajar. They checked with a manager, who told them there was nobody staying in the room. They went inside, found Hart on the bed and took him into custody.
Nwosu said she knew early on that she wanted to cooperate with detectives. But she avoided attending legal proceedings.
“The more I did not find myself in court for any of the hearings, the more I found myself in denial,” she said.
She also couldn’t bear to step foot on the college campus again. She saw a therapist and enrolled at a college in Howard County. She hopes to transfer to Towson University soon and still has plans to study psychology and be a counselor.
On Friday, she hoped to put as much of Hart behind her as she could.
“I cannot take what happened and be angry at you forever,” she told him, “because I know you are still human.”
Hart talked about his own derailed ambitions — from college student with plans to become a doctor to homeless and hearing voices.
In court, he wore a green prison jumpsuit, his wild hair sticking several inches off his head. But he was well-spoken and calm, at least at first.
“I just don’t understand what happened to me that day,” he said, taking long pauses to compose himself. “At the time, I was out of my mind.”
He looked over at the victim. “Ms. Edith, I’m just really sorry for what happened that day,” he said.
But the soft, heartfelt words turned to anguished moans after Johnson imposed the sentence.
“Judge Johnson, please don’t do this to me!” he yelled. “I didn’t kill anybody. I didn’t kill anybody. . . . Oh God! 90 years!”
After three sheriff’s deputies led him away, he could still be heard yelling on the other side of the door that led to the vehicle that would take him back to jail.