Lawyer tells Durham DA that witness has testimony to clear Virginia Lt. Gov. of rape

Virginia’s Fairfax decries ‘political lynching’ on state Senate floor

Embattled Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is comparing himself to lynching victims after two women came forward with allegations of sexual assault, prompted widespread calls for his resignation and a special hearing in the state House.
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Embattled Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is comparing himself to lynching victims after two women came forward with allegations of sexual assault, prompted widespread calls for his resignation and a special hearing in the state House.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax’s lawyer says an eyewitness to a spring 2000 encounter that fellow Duke University student Meredith Watson said was rape will state that the action was consensual.

A letter sent Tuesday from Barry Pollack to Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry, obtained by the News & Observer, provides a detailed account of what they say happened on the night 19 years ago at a fraternity house in Durham.

Watson, like Fairfax a Duke undergrad at the time, said he raped her that night. Last Feb. 8, she went public with the claim after another woman, Vanessa Tyson, said Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004 in Boston.

Fairfax immediately denied raping Watson while also denying Tyson’s claim.

Pollack began contacting Deberry in April asking for law enforcement to investigate Watson’s claim of rape in hopes of clearing Fairfax’s name. Pollack repeated that request in a letter to Deberry on June 12.

Deberry has confirmed receipt of the letter but declined to comment further on the matter. Sarah Willets, Deberry’s spokeswoman, said Wednesday the latest letter has also been received.

“We don’t have any additional comment,” Willets said in an email to the News & Observer.

Tuesday’s letter to Deberry, first published by Washington NBC affiliate WRC, went further, saying for the first time publicly that a witness is available to shed light on the night’s events.

Pollack didn’t disclose the name of the witness, but said he is willing to share that with Deberry.

“(He) stated unequivocally that Ms. Watson’s allegation that she was raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by Mr. Fairfax is false,” Pollack wrote to Deberry.

Though the letter doesn’t specify which fraternity house the incident occurred in, Fairfax was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha at Duke. He was the chapter’s president and National Pan Hellenic Council president during his time at Duke.

According to Pollack, Watson arrived at the fraternity house where the witness lived. Fairfax was also a member of the fraternity but didn’t live at the house. Watson, Fairfax and the witness were in the witness’ room when Watson arrived and initiated a sexual encounter with Fairfax.

After the encounter concluded and Fairfax left, the witness said he stayed with Watson.

“The eyewitness corroborates that Ms. Watson was a willing participant in sexual activity,” Pollack said in the letter. “No one had been using drugs or alcohol, and Ms. Watson initiated sexual contact with Mr. Fairfax and unambiguously manifested her consent to the sexual contact that occurred.”

Both Watson and Tyson have said they will testify if the Virginia General Assembly holds hearings into their claims. Watson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, reiterated that Wednesday in her response to Pollack’s letter.

“Five months after being accused of rape, Justin Fairfax changes his story yet again,” Smith said in a statement. “First it didn’t happen then it was consensual, and now for the first time he implicates his buddy as a participant. If Justin Fairfax wants the truth to come out, this secret witness should testify under oath, in public, along with Mr. Fairfax, both his victims and their witnesses. Fairfax continues to fight a public hearing tooth and nail. That says it all.”

Watson has also said she was raped by former Duke basketball player Corey Maggette while they were Duke students. Maggette has denied that allegation.

When Watson’s rape claims against Fairfax and Maggette became public, Duke officials said they were “gathering information to determine what policies and procedures were in place during the time period in which these events are alleged to have occurred, and whether they were activated and followed.”

Asked about any progress on the front this week, Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said in an email the school had “no further comment at this time.”

Staff writer Virginia Bridges contributed to this report.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.