A 39-year-old woman was raped at knifepoint on a moving Metro train just before 10 a.m. last month in the Wheaton-Glenmont area of Montgomery County, prosecutors said in court Monday.
“This is a horrifically terrifying experience. It certainly was for the victim in this case,” Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Haynos said in court.
She said the woman, not surprisingly, had felt safe riding alone in a train car.
“I don’t know many people who would have thought this would have happened in such a public arena — and that somebody would have the audacity to do that, particularly at 10 a.m.,” Haynos said
The suspect, John Prentice Hicks, 39, of Northeast Washington, was making his first court appearance in Montgomery County District Court in the case. Judge Zuberi Bakari Williams ordered Hicks held in jail on no-bond status. Hicks is due back in court June 10.
According to Haynos and Metro Transit Police, on April 12, Hicks approached a seated passenger aboard a northbound Red Line train and began speaking to her. He allegedly pulled out a knife, forced her to a different part of the car, raped her, then ordered her to another area of the car, and forced her to perform a sex act, court statements and records allege.
Detectives arrested Hicks in the District last month — on the same day as the assault, according to D.C. Superior Court records. He was transferred to Montgomery County late last week.
According to an arrest document signed by Metro Transit Detective C.H. Dorrity, investigators used high-definition surveillance video inside the Glenmont station, records from the suspect’s Metro SmarTrip card, and the woman’s recollection to identify Hicks.
Metro police officers also recognized him as the suspect in an indecent-exposure case that took place on Metro, according to Haynos.
When Metro Transit Police detectives initially charged Hicks, they cited three counts: attempted first-degree rape, first-degree sex offense and second-degree assault, according to court records.
Haynos, the prosecutor, said in court that “based on evidence that has been collected during the course of this investigation, this will be charged not as an attempted first-degree rape but as a first-degree rape.”
The investigation started at 10 a.m. April 12, when the woman in the case approached a Metro employee on the platform of the Glenmont station, which is at the end of the line that extends into the eastern portion of Montgomery County. Metro police officers were summoned, the woman talked to them and she was taken to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.
According to what she told police, she had fallen asleep aboard the train in her seat about midway in a car and awoke around the Takoma station, which is at the border of the District and Montgomery. She told police she noticed a man dressed in black and about 35 to 40 years old. He approached her.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked, the woman recalled to police. “Are you going to Glenmont?”
As the train made its way through the Forest Glen station, the man pulled out a folding knife and flashed the blade, the woman told police. The man then placed the woman “in a bearhug and forcefully guided her to a separate portion of the train car, blocking her attempts to exit,” wrote Dorrity, the detective.
The man then raped her, Haynos said.
Hicks then moved her to have her “sit in the corner” of the car, where he assaulted her again, police charge.
“During some point of the aforementioned events, a struggle ensued over the knife, which caused a laceration to [the victim’s] finger,” Dorrity wrote in court papers.
When the train reached the end of the line — at the Glenmont station — Hicks allegedly left the train and ordered the woman to stay on board. She saw him reboard a different car, according to court records, at which point she left her train car and approached the Metro worker.
Investigators reviewed surveillance video, which show a man exiting the car at the time described by the woman. They sent this image to other officers, who recognized Hicks as a suspect in the indecent-exposure case, according to Haynos.
Detectives also reviewed a database of passenger card use, which “showed that a SmarTrip card registered to John Prentice Hicks was processed exiting at Glenmont Station at 1000 hours” April 12.
Detectives showed the woman a mug shot of Hicks from a previous arrest as part of an array of photographs that included five other men. She identified Hicks as her assailant, police said.
“This is the man from the train today,” she said. “I recognize the shape of his face.”
She also said she recognized the size of his face and his eyes and added: “I don’t think he had hair or facial hair, though.”
Detectives asked how certain she was — on a scale of 1 to 10 — that the photo was that of the man who attacked her. “Seven out of 10,” she said.
In court Monday, Haynos cited a series of earlier convictions for Hicks: first-degree sexual abuse in 1995, attempted second-degree child sexual abuse in 2000, and unauthorized use of a vehicle in 2000 and 2007.
Kate Finley, an assistant public defender who represented Hicks in court Monday, asked Williams to set a bond for Hicks. She said she knew of no convictions for him during the past nine years.
She said Hicks has worked for the past 11 years as a certified forklift operator, lives with his mother and has four young children.
“His highest concern right now is to be able to get back to work,” she said.