Plea deal ends trial of St. Croix man charged with rape
Published: March 11, 2014
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ST. CROIX - Jury selection and a trial Monday was abruptly halted by a last-minute plea deal in the V.I. Superior Court case of a Castle Burke man with an extensive history of violent crimes who was facing rape and related charges.
Neil Durant, 33, was arrested in August 2012 and 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, which was scheduled to begin Monday before V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks.
As more than 60 people from the jury pool waited for the selection process to begin, Durant and his attorney, Yolan Brow-Ross, discussed a last-minute plea offer made by Assistant Attorney General Charlotte Pool Davis, which Durant accepted.
According to the conditions of the plea agreement that was taken in the judge's chambers, Durant agreed that he would plea no contest to destruction of property, in connection with destroying the woman's phone, and that he also will plead no contest 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. Willocks advised him that even though he is pleading no contest, he still could be sentenced as though he had pleaded guilty to the charges.
Durant is exposed to up to 16 months in prison on the charges, according to Willocks and has already served 15 months in pre-trial detention, for which he could be given credit.
Willocks said Durant also will be responsible to pay restitution for the damaged property and will be ordered to take anger management classes.
Durant faced a minimum of 10 years in prison and up to 40 years on the original charges and had been jailed from the time of his arrest until he was able to meet the conditions of his release in January.
Additionally, the complainant in the case had submitted a letter to the court in the form of a motion to dismiss the charges, saying that Durant's actions were not necessarily criminal as she had thought, and that it was a grave misunderstanding between them. She asked for the prosecution to dismiss the charges against him.
The dismissal did not come, but the woman's request weakened the prosecution's case.
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, before he grabbed her, choked her and raped her. She said she was screaming for help, but other people in the house did not hear her.
When the attack was over, the victim grabbed her cellular phone to contact police, but he took it and threw it to the ground, according to Joseph.
The woman said that when she was free, she called out for help. The woman said Durant apologized and begged her not to call the police before he ran from the home and was apprehended by police a week later, according to the police report.
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. Durant told police that the woman later became upset with him and was lying about the situation so that he would be in trouble with the law, according to Joseph.
With the acceptance the plea agreement, Willocks scheduled sentencing for 9 a.m. April 25.
The judge said he feels it fit to order that Durant sign up for anger management immediately. Willocks said once Durant has signed up or has documented proof that he made a good faith effort to do so, he will consider modifying Durant's conditions of release and removing him from the house arrest restrictions.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.