Judge sentences St. Croix resident to time served for July 2012 assault

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ST. CROIX - A 33-year-old man arrested on rape and related charges in 2012 who plead guilty in March to assault and disturbance charges was sentenced last week to time he already served in prison.

Neil Durant, 33, appeared before V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks on Thursday to be sentenced in the August 2012 case in which he was charged with first-degree rape and second-degree assault in connection with an incident police said happened during the early morning hours of July 31.

Durant had pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial, but in March, on the day his trial was scheduled to begin, he accepted a plea agreement. He agreed that he would plea no contest to destruction of property in connection with destroying the woman's phone, and to the lesser included offense of second-degree assault/simple assault and battery in connection with choking the woman with his hands.

In exchange for the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the more serious charges against Durant.

When Durant took the plea, he was exposed to 16 months in prison on the charges, and had already served 15 months in pre-trial detention.

His original charges could have given him anywhere from 10 to 40 years in prison if he had been convicted.

His attorney Yolan Brow Ross told the court that the plea was extended primarily because the victim in the case had recanted her story and filed for a dismissal, which weakened the prosecution's case.

Durant apologized in court for his actions, but added that as a person he is entitled to make mistakes. He said he had benefited from the anger management classes he was ordered to take at the time of the plea agreement and also had a significant amount of time in prison to think about his life and changes that need to be made.

Before imposing the sentence, Willocks told Durant that his extensive criminal history shows that he has made a number of mistakes and has had sufficient time going through the system that he should have already learned his lesson. He said he hoped he learned by this last contact because he could easily be treated as a habitual offender and sent away for a long time.

He sentenced him to three months in prison on the assault charge and one year in prison on the disturbance charge and gave him credit for the time he had already served.

According to the affidavit in support of the warrant for Durant's arrest, V.I. Police Detective Naomi Joseph said she was called to investigate a reported rape, and she learned that the woman said Durant was someone she had known for a number of years and he recently had become homeless. The victim said in her initial report to police that on July 30, Durant was discussing his frustration about sleeping in his car in the bush, and he asked if he could stay at her home.

The woman said she agreed to allow Durant to stay on the floor in her house, and during the night, he approached her about sex, but she turned down his advances.

She said he became aggressive and started touching her, and then grabbed her, choked her and raped her.

Durant told police that he did not rape the woman and said he asked her to have sex with him, and she agreed, according to the affidavit.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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