Hearing to resume on BU rape case plea deal left judge 'baffled'
April 10, 2018
By Travis Andersen - The Boston Globe
Fighting back tears, a young woman who was allegedly raped in her Boston University dorm room demanded a public apology from her alleged attacker Monday but said she supports a plea bargain that would let him avoid prison time, an agreement the judge said left her “baffled.”
“I have replayed it in my head every day since this happened,” said the woman, now 22, who was a BU student when Samson Donick, also 22, allegedly assaulted her while she slept in the predawn hours of Oct. 18, 2015. “What he did to me will never be OK.”
“I wanted an apology, a public apology,” she said Monday. “He needs to own up.”
The woman spoke at an emotional two-hour hearing in a Boston courtroom, three days before Donick, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, was set to stand trial on charges that included aggravated rape, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, and indecent assault and battery.
The hearing, before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders, resumes Tuesday.
On Monday, in a development that underscores the difficulties in prosecuting sexual assault cases, prosecutors told Sanders the woman had decided against testifying, saying that “reliving her trauma has become overwhelming.”
Without her testimony, prosecutors do not believe they can win a conviction, they said, and on Friday they struck a deal with defense lawyers to have Donick admit to sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt on a charge of indecent assault and battery, avoiding a formal conviction. He would plead guilty to the lesser charge of assault and battery, records show.
Under the agreement, Donick, of Tiburon, Calif., would be sentenced to five years of probation and the case would be continued without a finding, meaning he wouldn’t have a sex-offense conviction on his record.
He would have to perform 500 hours of community service, participate in sex offender treatment, and apologize to the woman in open court.
But Sanders said she found the plea agreement unsettling. The judge said she would consider accepting the terms only if Donick described “in his own words” the graphic details of the assault, which allegedly involved digital penetration and placing the woman’s hand on his genitals.
“What he did, if he did it, was incredibly serious,” Sanders said.
Sanders also said she would require Donick to plead guilty to indecent assault and battery.
He is accused of a “gross violation of someone’s personal integrity, bodily integrity,” Sanders said.
Sanders conceded that Donick may have to register as a sex offender if he provides the detailed account of the incident that she is seeking.
“Frankly, he should have thought about that” before the alleged assault, she said.
“The more I think about this case, the less pity I have for the defendant if he was required to register,” Sanders said. “It’s the kind of behavior that the public is very concerned about and wants to know about.”
The alleged attack happened in a student dorm at BU.
Around 2 a.m., Donick and three other males were signed into the dorm by three young women who were students, prosecutors said. They initially went to the young women’s suite, but around 2:30 a.m. Donick and another male left to find another female student — someone who was not the alleged victim.
The two entered about 10 dorm rooms on four floors looking for her, prosecutors said.
Eventually, prosecutors said, Donick entered the room of the alleged victim. She awoke to find him sexually assaulting her. He fled after she confronted him and screamed.
Prosecutors said Donick and the woman did not know each other before the 2015 encounter. They said that Donick called her “baby” when she awoke, saying to her at one point, “you want some more.”
Court records show that she told three people about the alleged attack in the immediate aftermath, including her boyfriend, whom she contacted via Facetime. A DNA test allegedly linked Donick to the assault, according to court records.
Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, said sexual assault survivors face “a variety of obstacles” in deciding whether to testify.
“We always fall on the side of supporting the survivors and that’s why we don’t think that victims should be compelled to testify,” she said. “There’s an interest in holding people accountable for the crime, both out of justice for the victim and to prevent future violence, but that responsibility cannot lie just with the victim,” she said.
Daniel Marx, one of three lawyers representing Donick, said his client has agreed to admit in court that he “touched her in an offensive way without her giving consent.” But Marx said he was not prepared to advise Donick on “what he could and couldn’t say” in a more detailed recounting that Sanders is seeking.
The young woman was joined in court by her family, whom she mentioned in explaining her reluctance to testify in front of a jury. Her family “is about to welcome a new baby” into the world, and she doesn’t want relatives and friends “dragged through the dirt” during a trial, she said.
The young woman said she does not believe Donick should have to register as a sex offender. “I believe that everyone deserves second chances,” she said.
During the woman’s testimony, Sanders asked her if she had received any type of civil settlement from Donick, who had been a member of MIT’s basketball team and who now lives in Tiburon, Calif.
“Absolutely none,” she replied.
Donick sat quietly with his lawyers during the hearing, which lasted about two hours. When the young woman walked past him after stepping down from the witness stand, they did not make eye contact.
Aimee Ortiz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.