Verdict stands: UVA rape verdict motion denied

Two months after a jury found UVA grad Matthew Hamilton negligent in a civil case that shed light on date rape at UVA, a judge has ruled that the $150,000 award will stand.

"The case was extremely well tried by both sides," said Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire as he denied Hamilton's motions to strike the verdict. "The verdict," he added, "was not excessive under the circumstances."

For three consecutive days beginning August 29, a seven-person jury listened to testimony regarding the night of December 8, 2001, when Annie Hylton, then an 18-year-old first-year at UVA, claimed she was date raped by Hamilton, a 21-year-old third-year. Hylton had sued Hamilton for $1.5 million after the Commonwealth's Attorney declined to press criminal charges against him.

Both Hylton and Hamilton agree they had played drinking games at several points during the evening, but they disagreed on the quantity of alcohol Hylton had consumed. What was not in question: by midnight, Hylton fell ill and vomited in a fraternity house bathroom for what some witnesses estimated was at least an hour.

"She was an energetic drunk," testified Hamilton's fraternity brother Ben Decker, recalling a tipsy Hylton joking with people in the room.

Hylton, however, claimed Hamilton had drugged her, citing the fact she hadn't had enough to drink to "black out."

Her friends and several expert witnesses testified that she had suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the incident, and Hylton herself confessed to considering suicide in the aftermath of the alleged assault.

Following the verdict, members of the jury explained they didn't believe Hamilton had drugged Hylton, but rather felt he was negligent in having sex with someone who he should have known was too intoxicated to give consent.

"He should have just let her lie in the bed and go to sleep," juror Kim Henderson said several days after the trial.

In early September, Juror Gregg John said the jury believed that both Hamilton and Hylton were negligent that night, but that since Hamilton was "older and more experienced with alcohol," he should be held to a "slightly higher standard."

Hogshire's decision to allow the award to stand is good news for Hylton, says her attorney Steven Rosenfield.

"We're pleased that this phase is over," he says. "It's awfully satisfying to have a judgment."

Hamilton's attorney, Richmond-based Doug Winegardner, says he and Hamilton now must consider whether to petition the Virginia Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

"We continue to believe that Mr. Hamilton was innocent," he says, "and that the jury understood that despite their verdict."

Rosenfield says he'll be ready for whatever comes next.

"We're anticipating dealing with an appeal if it comes," he says.

Annie Hylton's quest to get her case in front of a jury was the subject of the Hook's August 25 cover story.