Guilty as charged: Four life sentences for serial rapist


Nathan Washington was subdued in court, but a deputy gets a smile from the admitted rapist as he journeys back to jail.

A red straw in a small orange drink connected police to the serial rapist whose attacks date back to 1997. On December 10 in Charlottesville Circuit Court, a shackled Nathan Antonio Washington, wearing a suit and bright lime tie, pleaded guilty to four assaults in Charlottesville and one in Albemarle and will serve four consecutive life sentences.

It was the victim in his last known attack– on Webland Drive on August 18, 2004– who helped lead police to Washington. The woman noticed a car in the parking lot of the UVA Aquatics and Fitness Center where she worked, and the driver reminded her of the man who had fondled her buttocks there on November 12, 2002– one day after a brutal rape in the Willoughby subdivision. The woman got the license number of the vehicle, a Mitsubishi Galant registered to Washington's wife. The victim also spotted Washington at the Barracks Road Harris Teeter supermarket, where he worked as a butcher.

By August 1, police decided to put Washington, who had no criminal record and thus no DNA on file, under surveillance. A detective saw Washington at Burger King drinking from a small cup with a red straw, which she retrieved from a trash can after he left. On August 10, police were informed that saliva on the straw was a match to that of the man linked by DNA in seven other assaults. Washington was arrested August 13.

In court on Monday, December 10, Washington, 40, a Western Albemarle High School graduate, frequently dabbed his eyes with a tissue and avoided eye contact with observers in the courtroom as Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman detailed the two counts of rape and two of forcible sodomy to which Washington pleaded guilty.

The first took place June 12, 1999, when a Brazilian woman in her 30s returned to her apartment at 2300 Jefferson Park Avenue and encountered a man waiting in her bedroom. In an assault typical of Washington's MO– unforced entry, in this case through a bathroom screen, and lying in wait for his victim– he put his hand over her mouth and raped her.

Police have long thought that the serial rapist was a predator who stalked and knew well in advance who his next victim would be. In court, Chapman said that Washington had lived in the vicinity of his victims or had family members who did.

Washington entered his next victim's apartment on April 15, 2000, by removing a screen from a kitchen window at 405 13th Street. The UVA student in her 20s awakened to find a man choking her. Washington forced her to perform oral sex and attempted to perform vaginal and anal sex, but was unable to do so. 

Police realized a serial rapist was loose when DNA results linked this assault to the year-earlier JPA attack, and to the February 11, 1997, rape of a woman staying at the Comfort Inn in Waynesboro. But to that point, because the attacks happened at night, they did not have a precise physical description.

The brutal November 11, 2002, blitz attack and beating of a woman fixing breakfast in her Harris Road house– Washington also lived on Harris Road, says Chapman– told police that the rapist was back after a two-year hiatus, and that he was becoming increasingly violent. Police called a press conference to alert the public on November 25, 2002.

The fourth attack in Charlottesville to which Washington pleaded guilty took place April 26, 2003, at 1909 Jefferson Park Avenue. A woman who was guest in the apartment where she used to live let herself in, showered– and found Washington waiting for her. He told her not to look at him and forced her to perform oral sex, but "couldn't obtain an erection," Chapman said. Washington then asked her for money and took cash from her purse.

In court, the defendant kept his head down and contorted his face as Chapman read the evidence against him.

Washington also pleaded guilty to breaking and entering in the Webland Drive attack. Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos said that two of three charges in that attack would be dropped, and an additional 20 years will be added to Washington's four life sentences.

As part of the plea, Washington agreed to talk to city and county investigators about other sexual assaults he may have committed; he won't be charged in those. He will be sentenced February 26, and the Waynesboro rape was not part of the plea agreement. 

Washington's defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana read a brief statement after the hearing, noting that he "publicly accepted responsibility for the harm he has inflicted on the individual victims of these crimes and community" and will spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.

"Mr. Washington is not asking for forgiveness, although he hopes his decision to plead guilty to all charges will allow the process of healing to begin," she continued. Washington never requested a bond hearing or that any of his victims appear in court and testify. "He has never wanted anyone to fear the prospect of coming to court to relive these events," she said.

Quagliana also pointed out that Washington is a the father of four, and asked that the privacy of his wife and children be respected.

Chapman calls the plea a "step along the way to accounting after a decade of fear in the community. The final sentence will be an end to the formal legal proceedings, but not an end to the trauma the victims experienced."

He credits Washington's arrest to the victim who recognized him and got his license number, and the work of two detectives who "reduced it to a red straw in an orange drink."