New judge appointed to Hansel case

The case will move forward with a pre-trial conference on Tuesday

Kieran McQuilkin

The Virginia Supreme Court assigned a new judge to the trial of previous Washington and Lee student Nicholas Hansel after his plea was rejected and sealed in August.

Jay T. Swett, a retired judge from Virginia’s 16th Judicial Circuit, will take over the case on Nov. 4 for a scheduled pre-trial conference in Lexington.

Such conferences catch up the new judge on previous trial proceedings and give the attorneys an opportunity to submit a plea agreement; however, it is unknown whether a new plea deal will be submitted.

Former Judge Michael S. Irvine recused himself from the case after rejecting the original plea agreement. According to a story by The News Gazette, he said the plea agreement “does not serve justice,” but did not offer a further explanation as to why the document was sealed.

W&L’s Journalism Department sent a letter to the court shortly after the plea agreement was rejected and sealed, requesting it be released to the public. It cited the public’s right to access criminal trials under the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of Virginia’s Constitution. The court has not yet responded to that request.

Early on Dec. 3, 2013, a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV driven by Hansel, 22, left an off-campus party carrying 10 other students. After hitting a tree stump on Turkey Hill Road, the SUV overturned, killing twenty-one-year-old Kelsey Durkin and seriously injuring three other students.

In May, Hansel was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and maiming as a result of driving while intoxicated, driving under the influence and refusing to take a breathalyzer or blood test.

According to court documents, Hansel waived his right to a speedy trial, which will continue following the Nov. 4 conference at the Rockbridge County Courthouse.

Check back next week for full coverage of the conference.