- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

MANASSAS — Prosecutors backed away from their contention that a man on trial in a 1996 abduction is the so-called Route 29 Stalker who terrorized parts of Northern and Central Virginia a decade ago.

Darrell D. Rice, 37, went on trial yesterday, charged with abduction with intent to defile and robbery in a February 1996 incident along a Prince William County highway.

Although Rice is charged with only one abduction, prosecutors have said they think Rice is the Route 29 Stalker, whom police have linked to the 1996 slaying of Alicia Showalter Reynolds as well as numerous attempts to dupe female motorists along the Route 29 corridor into stopping their cars in February and March 1996.

In a significant shift of trial strategy, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James Willett announced just before the trial began that prosecutors will not try to link Rice to any of the Route 29 cases except the one for which he is on trial — the abduction of Carmelita Shomo, who suffered a broken ankle and other injuries escaping from her abductor after accepting a ride .

Previously, prosecutors had said they would seek to link Rice to other Route 29 cases and establish a pattern of crimes.

But during opening statements to the jury yesterday, Mr. Willett said the other Route 29 abductions and attempted abductions were irrelevant to the trial.

“It’s not part of our case,” Mr. Willett said. “You’ll find it has very little to do with what you have to decide.”

Defense attorneys, though, said they have a wealth of evidence that Rice is not the Route 29 Stalker, including victims who will testify that Rice is not the man who approached them. And if Rice is not the Route 29 Stalker, then by extension he is not the culprit in the Shomo case, they argued.

“There is an ongoing investigation into the identity of the Route 29 Stalker,” defense attorney James Connell said. “That man is not Darrell Rice.”

Rice, who sat quietly with his head down through much of yesterday’s hearing, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for an attempted abduction of a bicyclist in Shenandoah National Park in 1997.

In April 2002, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that federal prosecutors had charged Rice with the long-unsolved slayings of Julianne M. Williams and Laura S. “Lollie” Winans, who were killed in the Shenandoah park in 1996.

The case fell apart, though, after DNA tests on evidence from the crime scene cast doubt on Rice’s guilt. Prosecutors dropped the murder case against him in February 2004.

A few months later, prosecutors in Prince William County charged Rice with Miss Shomo’s abduction. Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert said at the time that he thought Rice was the Route 29 Stalker. Rice has never been charged in Mrs. Reynolds’ killing, which occurred in Culpeper County as the Johns Hopkins University graduate student returned from Baltimore to her home in Charlottesville.

Rice’s attorneys contend that the DNA evidence and other evidence in the case prove Rice’s innocence. They have suggested that Richard Marc Evonitz, a serial killer who murdered three Spotsylvania County girls a decade ago, is the real Route 29 Stalker. Evonitz killed himself in 2002 after police tracked him down in Florida when one of his victims escaped. He was surrounded by officers and being bitten by a police dog when he shot himself.

Mr. Willett gave only a brief explanation in court yesterday for his decision to de-emphasize the stalker cases, saying only that Circuit Judge William Hamblen’s pretrial rulings on evidentiary issues necessitated the change.

Judge Hamblen expressed frustration on several occasions that police were not fully cooperating with defense attorneys’ requests to review evidence in the case.

Mr. Willett told the jury yesterday that the key evidence will be Miss Shomo’s testimony. She once picked Rice out of a lineup, but on two other occasions identified two other photos, including one of Evonitz, as possible perpetrators.

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