For years, the Leesburg woman raped in 2001 by the man who would be dubbed the “East Coast Rapist” was able to put him behind her. After speaking with the detective in her case, she “let him be dead in my head.” But on Halloween 2009, two teenagers in Prince William County were raped and their cases were eventually linked forensically to hers as well as sexual assaults in three other states.
“It brings it all back,” she said on the stand in Loudoun County Circuit Court Friday morning during the sentencing hearing of Aaron Thomas. “It is never really gone. It is always there.”
The woman faced her attacker and told Judge Thomas D. Horne of the affect the rape in her Leesburg apartment had on her, both then and in the 12 years since.
“While he was raping me and I thought I was going to die, all I could think about was my little girl who was only 7 at the time and that I would never her or my son’s again,” she testified.
She talked of being in tears as she attempted to walk from her car into her work following the rape. She told Horne that, as a U.S. Army veteran, she had been exposed to people from all walks of life, but suddenly found herself distrustful of men, particularly African-American men.
“I felt that every man I looked at knew I had been raped,” she said.
The biggest change, she said, was in the way she viewed her own body and her life. Before the rape she said she “could have been the poster child for women’s fitness.” She ran, lifted weights and did yoga and martial arts. But afterward, she could not go to the gym; she could not be around men. When she ran, she felt like she was being chased.
“I stopped exercising,” she said. “I stopped being me.”
She said she used to take such pride in how she looked, but after the rape she spent her time sitting on the couch “doing nothing.”
“Now to look in the mirror and see how I look because of my sedentary time, I don’t like it,” she said.
Horne focused on the layers of impact that a rape had on the victim when he imposing two life sentences on Thomas. Thomas, 41, pleaded guilty in November to one count of rape and one count of abduction with the intent to defile. Life in prison is the maximum sentence allowed for each count.
“What you did to her was the same as if you’d take a knife and driven it right through her heart,” Horne said. “But you drove it right through her soul.”
Horne said that the victim deserved closure in her case and the right to “go to bed at night knowing you’re not out there looking for her…she needs peace in her life.”
Thomas spent almost the entire hearing with his shoulders hunched forward and head bowed, looking at his lap.
The two life sentences in Loudoun will be added to the three consecutive life sentences imposed by a Prince William County judge earlier this month for two counts of rape and one count of abduction stemming from the Halloween 2009 rape of two teenagers.
Virginia is the first state to prosecute and sentence Thomas for his crimes. He has been charged in Connecticut, but legal proceedings have not begun there. He is also connected forensically to rapes in Maryland and Rhode Island.
In Thomas’ defense, public defender Lorie O’Donnell presented testimony from Dr. Mark Hastings of Loudoun County Mental Health, who interviewed Thomas over the course of three days and interviewed several members of his family. Hastings testified that Thomas had suffered years of routine physical, emotional and mental abuse at the hands of his father and that he was shunned by his family for being “odd.” Hastings also stated there was a prolonged history of mental illness in Thomas’ family.
During her arguments, O’Donnell noted that both Hastings and the doctor in the Prince William case found that Thomas suffered from a “significant cognitive disorder” and faced a “significant deficit” with problems processing information. “He was going to struggle. That child with those deficits…was severely emotionally, mentally and physically abused.”
O’Donnell told the judge that Thomas’ family was made aware he would need psychological treatment and therapy, but that his parents refused. “No son of ours is going to be on any medication,” O’Donnell said of his family’s attitude. She also told the judge of Thomas’ family’s refusal to appear in court.
But, she said, Thomas was not seeking leniency from the court. She said he has never said anything other than he knows he deserves to be punished. “All he asks for is while being punished that he receive some type of therapy, some sort of help.”
When asked by Horne if he had anything to say, Thomas repeated that request, saying he wanted to “know why, how I ended up like this.”
“I want to be punished. I think I should be punished,” Thomas said, dressed in the orange jumpsuit of the Loudoun Adult Detention Center and chained at the ankles and around the waist and hands. “But I now know I need help.”
During his statement, his victim left the courtroom—and after the hearing she noted he only showed care for his own situation, and offered no apology for what he had done to her. She said she was glad Thomas would not be able to hurt another person like he hurt her and that “everything is going to be better” from here forward.
Commonwealth’s Attorney James Plowman called her a “modern day hero” for standing up and facing Thomas, and said he was pleased with the outcome and that it would “close this chapter for her.” He said it was unlikely Thomas would receive the treatment he sought, noting the prison system normally only gives treatment two years prior to an inmate’s release to re-acclimate them to society, and Thomas is unlikely to ever be released.
As for his victim, she said she hopes to become involved in support groups for rape survivors and work to help other victims, particularly young victims of rape. And as she testified during the hearing, she believes it was important for her to remain strong, as she has worked to be since the days and weeks immediately following her rape.
“He hurt my body and I could not allow him to hurt my head,” she said, “and I became stronger than him.”