Date set for Hansel trial

New judge appointed to former Washington and Lee student’s case, sets trial to move forward in January

Kieran McQuilkin

Judge Jay T. Swett has set a trial date for former Washington and Lee student Nick Hansel, who was charged with killing a student and seriously injuring three others in a car crash last December.

Hansel is scheduled to appear on Jan. 20 for a four-day trial at the Rockbridge County Circuit Court. Swett said he also would rule on all unresolved motions on Dec. 10.

Swett, a retired judge from the 16th Circuit, was appointed to the Hansel case when Judge Michael S. Irvine recused himself after rejecting and sealing a plea deal in August. The new judge will also consider a letter from Brian Richardson, head of W&L’s Journalism and Mass Communications Department, which requests the rejected plea agreement be released to the public.

Swett said on Tuesday that he recognizes the right of news organizations to file such a petition, but he is unsure whether that right extends to private citizens as well. However, Richardson’s letter mentions that W&L’s journalism department runs the Rockbridge Report, which is one of the major sources of news in Lexington.

Commonwealth Attorney Robert Joyce Jr. responded to the letter, saying that releasing the proposed plea agreement could unfairly influence the jurors in a case that has already garnered significant media attention. Hansel’s defense attorneys have not yet replied to the letter, but have until Nov. 28 to do so.

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, the 22-year-old was charged with three felonies and three misdemeanors, including driving while intoxicated, maiming and involuntary manslaughter.