That bites: Fluco convicted in girls soccer incident
The tears were streaming as members of the Fluvanna High School girls varsity soccer team emerged from a courthouse in downtown Charlottesville after their co-captain was convicted of biting a Western Albemarle High player– who used to be a Fluco teammate.
The judge convicted 18-year-old Katrina Ditta of misdemeanor assault and battery, and sentenced her to a 90-day suspended sentence.
Ditta, who dabbed her eyes with a tissue after Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Rick Moore delivered his guilty verdict, had taken the stand to deny chomping down on the victim's arm. The courtroom was filled with her supporters and former teammates. Her grandmother abruptly left the room after the verdict.
There was already bad blood between the Flucos and Warriors, even before the fateful moment on that fateful day. It was May 23 at the Jefferson District semifinals in what would be Ditta's last high school game; and, according to one witness, the coaches didn't even shake hands. Other witnesses indicated that the two teams sat on opposite sides of the field– something very rare in soccer.
The contest had been rained out the previous day, and the grueling Wednesday game was tied 1-1. It went into two overtimes, two sudden deaths, and two penalty kicks before Western eked out a win.
Western student Christine Domecq, 17, testified that the incident happened in the first overtime on a corner kick. She said she knew Ditta because they'd both played on the Fluvanna team before Domecq transferred to Western Albemarle, where her father is an assistant principal.
"I was trying to make a run," said Domecq. "She grabbed me and bit me." Within minutes, she added, she saw teeth marks and red swelling.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jon Zug whipped out four photos of the allegedly bitten arm. The photos had been taken by Domecq's father two days later.
Domecq didn't report the alleged bite until after the game and testified that she waited over fears that it would be seen as retaliation that might somehow disqualify her for the following day's championship game.
"You didn't want to report a flagrant foul because it would be retaliation?" asked an incredulous-toned defense attorney Bonnie Lepold.
"I told Christine she needs to be a mature person if there was name calling or physical incidents," testified Western coach Jacob Desch. "I told her to walk away."
After the game, Dolmecq approached him and the assistant coach.
"There was a red mark there," said Desch, who noted that biting in soccer is rare. "She said it was a bite. Whether it's true or not, we went straight to the administrator."
"I could see clearly what seemed to be indentations on her arm," said assistant soccer coach Robert Crickenberger.
The defense brought in 10 witnesses, including the referees and other people at the game, each of whom testified that they did not see Domecq get bitten, nor did they hear any scream during the alleged assault.
Ditta took the stand and flatly denied biting Domecq– and any ill will toward the former teammate who transferred to Western.
Judge Rick Moore, a former Orange and Albemarle prosecutor who was elected to the bench in May, said the fact that others didn't see the biting was not significant.
"There are a lot of things you don't see with 22 people running around," said the judge, who noted that he found the victim believable, as well as the testimony of two people who said the red mark looked like a bite.
"I believe she was bitten," said Moore. "It could have been unintentional." He adds, "I don't find any reason to reject the victim's testimony."
Virginia, however, seems to require intent to sustain an assault and battery conviction.
"To say it might have been an accident is inconsistent with the ruling," explains Hook legal expert David Heiberg, because that would raise reasonable doubt. Noting that many judges don't offer reasons for their verdicts, Heilberg wonders whether Moore's newness on the bench contributed to an explanation that seems at odds with the verdict.
Ditta's attorney indicated that she would be appealing. Prosecutor Zug declined to comment on the case pending such appeal.
After the trial, Zug expressed surprise to find so much media interest. However, he did mention the Canadian hockey coach who recently tripped a 13-year-old player during post-game handshakes, an action that over two million have watched on YouTube.
"That is assault," said Zug. "We're seeing sports crimes."
Updated around 3:30pm July 17 with David Heilberg comments.Read more on: girls soccer biting incident