By Margaret Beimdiek

A former Washington and Lee University student who pleaded guilty to rape last December was sentenced to six years in prison.

In a hearing Monday, Rockbridge County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Russell sentenced Ricardo Vergara, 20, of Nashville, Tenn., to 24 years in prison, with 18 years of the sentence suspended.

“It really is a sad day for several families and a bunch of people not from this community,” Russell said.

Last year, Vergara admitted that he had raped a female W&L student on Jan. 14, 2023. He was charged on Feb. 26, 2023.

A second female W&L student reported Vergara to the university’s Title IX office for a different incident that occurred in the fall while he was still a student. But she never pressed charges.

Russell said Vergara must register as a sex offender. The judge imposed a five-year term of probation after Vergara serves the prison sentence. Vergara also was banned from contacting the victim.

Andrew Squires, a senior assistant commonwealth’s attorney, asked Russell to impose a sentence of 12 to 15 years, which is at the higher end of the state sentencing guidelines.

But Russell said he decided to impose a lower sentence because Vergara had accepted a guilty plea deal and had apologized.

“He did spare the victim from having to relive the violation of her bodily integrity and be questioned about it in an adversarial way,” the judge said.

Vergara spoke in court, apologizing to the victim, his family and W&L.

“I cannot go a day without thinking about what I did,” he said. “I know the consequences for actions, and I take accountability for my actions.”

Squires said Vergara will serve his sentence in a Virginia Department of Corrections facility, but he is not sure which one yet.

Vergara’s attorney, Sandra Drewniak Nicks, declined to comment.

Reporting to W&L

Commonwealth’s Attorney Jared Moon has urged W&L students who are victims of sexual assault to file reports with local police instead of the university’s Title IX office.

“Part of that investigation is interviewing witnesses, interviewing the victim, processing a crime scene, all of which law enforcement has been trained to do from the start,” he said. “I can’t speak to the training of any personnel from any university. But I highly doubt they have been through the various trainings necessary to collect forensic evidence, to interview a victim of a crime versus interviewing someone suspected of a crime.”

Lauren Kozak, W&L’s Title IX director, said the university conducts an investigation after receiving a victim’s report alleging sexual assault.

“The university’s formal complaint process does not determine whether a crime occurred under Virginia or federal law but rather whether university policy was violated,” she wrote in an email.

Moon said his office has been involved in other sexual assault investigations of W&L students since he became commonwealth’s attorney in 2019. But only two have resulted in criminal charges, including Vergara’s case.

Moon said the prosecutor’s office helps victims navigate the criminal justice system but never initiates charges unless victims decide that is what they want to do.

“The sooner law enforcement is involved in the process,” he said, “the more likely there would be at some point a conviction at the end of the road.”

Exit mobile version