As a Rapist Seeks Freedom, a Victim’s Plea Moves a D.C. Judge to Tears

From a Washington Post story by Paul Duggan headlined “As a rapist seeks freedom, a victim’s plea moves a D.C.judge to tears”:

Two women who were abducted in D.C. and repeatedly raped in 1992 angrily faced one of their long-imprisoned attackers Thursday at a court hearing so charged with emotion that a judge, tearful on the bench, paused the proceeding and turned her back to the courtroom, struggling to regain her composure.

“We’re people, too, so I appreciate you giving me that indulgence,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Rainey R. Brandt said in a halting voice when the hearing resumed. Addressing one of the women, who had just given the judge an unsparing account of her horrific experience 31 years ago, Brandt dabbed her eyes, took a sip of water and said quietly, “You broke my heart.”

The admitted rapist, Joshua D. Haggins, was 16 in 1992 when he and an accomplice kidnapped the two victims, then college students, and held them overnight, beating and sexually assaulting them at gunpoint. Haggins, arrested days after the abduction, pleaded guilty in Superior Court to multiple charges and was sentenced to 34 years to life in prison.

Now Haggins, 47, who appeared at Thursday’s hearing via video from a penitentiary, has asked Brandt to shorten or end his sentence under a D.C. law called the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, or IRAA. The statute is meant to give a fresh chance to offenders who have served long stretches behind bars for crimes committed at a young age and show strong evidence of rehabilitation. Haggins argues he has reformed behind bars, and his petition includes statements from treatment specialists and prison officials attesting to his maturity and good behavior while incarcerated.

The women, close friends in 1992, eventually lost touch after their ordeal and had not seen each other for decades until Thursday, one of them said. They came to court to contest Haggins’s IRAA petition, on which Brandt has yet to rule. One of them, Kristen Hubbard, 49, has consented to her name being published in The Washington Post, which generally does not identify victims of sexual assaults. The other woman, 50, did not want her name printed.

It was the 50-year-old victim’s impassioned description of her trauma that caused Brandt to say, “Excuse me,” when the woman had finished speaking. The judge then swiveled in her chair to face the wall behind the bench, sitting in silence for a minute as she tried to gather herself.

“I am depressed!” the woman had said, her anguished voice filling the courtroom. Seated beside a prosecutor, she slapped her right hand on a tabletop again and again, imploring Brandt to turn down the petition. “I am angry!” she cried. “I am sad! I have never married! I have no kids! I live alone! … I have tried to the best of my ability to live a life. But I am empty.”

Haggins and his accomplice, Richard Settles, then 19, abducted the women from a car outside a D.C. music club, according to authorities and the victims. The two were raped repeatedly outdoors, on winter-cold pavement, and again overnight in a Maryland motel. Before being let go, they were forced to dig graves for themselves. Settles, convicted by a jury, was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

The 50-year-old woman offered Brandt a graphic account of that night, saying she became pregnant from the rape and got an abortion. “I was a virgin teenager,” she said. “They stole my life.”

Hubbard echoed her. “The young women that we would have been is gone,” she told the judge. “Where is our resentencing? Who will speak for us?”

If Haggins is released from his D.C. prison term (Brandt said she will issue her ruling “sometime this spring”), he still is facing a sentence of 30 years to life in Maryland in a separate case. But his attorney said Haggins would apply for similar relief in Maryland under that state’s IRAA-like law.

“I am very remorseful and empathetic toward them,” Haggins said on the courtroom video screen, referring to the victims. He said he has been rehabilitated and is “not the same person today that committed those crimes.” His attorney said Haggins, who appeared to be sobbing through the women’s statements, suffered horrendous abuse as a child and succumbed to bad influences on the streets.

As for the abduction and rapes, Haggins said, “I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”

The IRAA statute, first enacted in 2016, sets out a list of factors that a judge must consider before ruling on a petition. Most of the criteria relate to the offender’s rehabilitation, maturity and potential future dangerousness. Other factors involve the petitioner’s childhood, including any mistreatment, and whether the offender’s crime was committed under the sway of an older person.

So far, D.C. judges have granted the petitions of 135 people, 16 of whom have been arrested again for new crimes, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in the District.

Under the initial IRAA law, an offender had to have been younger than 18 when the crime occurred and had to have served at least 20 years. The statute has since been expanded to encompass offenders whose crimes occurred when they were younger than 25 and who have served at least 15 years. And unlike the original IRAA, the statute now says that if an offender meets the criteria, the petition “shall” be granted by a judge “despite the brutality or coldblooded nature of any particular offense.”

After recounting the brutality of what happened to her and her long-ago best friend, the 50-year-old woman abruptly lowered her voice in the courtroom.

“We survived that night,” she told Brandt, before the judge, overcome, turned in her chair. “We survived because we are survivors.”

Paul Duggan is a staff writer covering crime and justice. Since joining The Washington Post in 1987, he has worked as a general assignment reporter, assignment editor and national correspondent.

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