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The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Grand jury indicts former Washington and Lee first-year on rape charges

Lexington police arrested Ricardo Vergara in February for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student a month earlier
Jenny Hellwig
Ricardo Vergara will spend six years in prison and five on probation.

Content warning: This article contains references to rape and sexual assault.

The rape case against a former Washington and Lee student will move forward after a grand jury indicted him on Monday. 

A Rockbridge Circuit Court grand jury determined there was sufficient evidence to indict former Washington and Lee first-year Ricardo Vergara on two felony charges, rape and object sexual penetration. 

At the hearing, a police officer involved with the case summarized its facts and evidence to the grand jurors, said Andrew Squires, the lead prosecutor on the case and a member of the Commonwealth’s Attorney office. The prosecution is the only side allowed to present evidence in a grand jury hearing, which is conducted behind closed doors.

Lexington police arrested Vegara Feb. 26 for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student Jan. 14, court documents said. Vergara was additionally charged with one misdemeanor count of sexual battery. 

Vergara has been out of jail on $20,000 bond since March 1. 

Under his bail conditions, Vergara was banned from stepping foot on any college campus, including Washington and Lee’s. He was also banned from entering Lexington and Rockbridge County except for his court hearings. The court instructed him to otherwise remain at his family’s home in Nashville. Vergara was also forbidden from having any contact with the victim in this case.

Judge Christopher Billias moved Vergara’s case from the Lexington/Rockbridge General District Court to the Rockbridge Circuit Court at a hearing on Sept. 11, because general courts cannot try felonies. 

At that Sept. 11 hearing, Vergara appeared in-person and waived his right to a preliminary hearing. The procedural move allows Vergara to keep a plea deal on the table. In turn, prosecutors can avoid bringing in the victim and other witnesses to testify, Squires told the Phi after that hearing.

“We could say, if you require us to put on a preliminary hearing, which requires [the] victims to go through testifying, we might give a much less favorable offer if we give an offer at all,” Squires said. 

Vergara is being represented by attorney Sandra Drewniak Nicks, who did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Next steps for Vergara 

Vergara’s next court appearance will be his formal arraignment Dec. 13. 

During this hearing, Vergara may enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere, which means accepting punishment but neither admitting or denying fault. 

If Vergara pleads guilty, the next step will be a hearing to determine his sentence. But if he pleads not guilty, he can choose to have either a trial by judge or jury. 

Vergara may be able to negotiate a deal with prosecutors, in which he would plead guilty to have his charges or sentence reduced. 

Squires said that the prosecution has already offered a plea agreement to Vergara, but Nicks has not yet said whether he will accept. Even if Vergara does agree to a deal, he may back out at any point, including during the arraignment. 

Jared Moon, commonwealth’s attorney for Lexington and Rockbridge County, said his office makes plea offers in most criminal cases. 

“If it wasn’t for plea negotiations…ultimately the criminal justice system—at least here in Rockbridge County—would come to a screeching halt,” he said. “We just don’t have enough time for the court to try every case.” 

Two cases in at least eight years  

In the eight years that Moon has served as the commonwealth’s attorney, this is the second time that his office has prosecuted a W&L student for sexual assault. 

The first time was earlier this year. Daniel Selby, a former class of 2025 member, pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery on Feb. 3 and served a sentence of two nights in jail. Selby remained enrolled at Washington and Lee during the nearly five months he was out on bail after an initial arrest in September 2022.

Selby had his felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor through a plea deal. A downgrade from the felony level is very rare, Moon said. One reason may be a victim no longer wishing to pursue a felony charge. 

It is unclear if Washington and Lee ever took any disciplinary action against Vergara or Selby. University spokesperson Drewry Sackett said she can’t discuss specific sexual misconduct cases, but confirmed on Feb. 8 and March 3 that both students were no longer enrolled at W&L. 

Moon said he often receives forwarded reports of sexual assaults from Washington and Lee’s Title IX office. These reports usually contain limited information. If they do provide information for police to follow up on, victims often don’t want to proceed, he said. 

But he said that the cases involving Vergara and Selby have demonstrated that attitudes are changing.

“There’s been an increase in reporting and not only that, an increase in the victims’ desire to proceed,” Moon said. “The victims…certainly have demonstrated a significant amount of courage.” 

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Jenny Hellwig, Editor-in-Chief

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