Virginia man fights rape conviction after 5-day jury trial held without him

Around the South

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) – Last week, a Hampton man was sentenced to eight years in prison in connection with a 2017 rape case in Hanover County.

Antonio Lorenzo Biggs was convicted after a five-day jury trial in February, but his case is unusual: he wasn’t present for any of his trial.

Now, his new attorney plans to file an appeal.

“I went from scoring football touchdowns to a cell block,” Biggs said. “Everything I’ve been going through lately has been a disaster.”

Biggs now sits 100 miles from home behind the brick walls and barbed wire Pamunkey Regional Jail in Hanover County. He still claims his innocence.

“I hate to think about being incarcerated for eight years for a crime that I didn’t commit,” Biggs added.

Biggs’ story has a beginning, middle and end. It starts at Phoebus High School in Hampton.

“I just loved the game of football,” Biggs said. “It was the only thing I knew.”

Biggs says he was being looked at by several schools, but it was on a recruiting trip to Randolph-Macon College in Ashland in September 2017 when life took a turn. 

“It was a good experience until later on that night,” Biggs added.

Biggs spent the day with a college co-ed.

“She toured us around the college campus pretty much the whole day, and she gave me her number,” he added.

It’s from this point, the middle of the story, where things get muddled.

“I remember sitting on the couch and then everything is sort of in and out,” the woman told the jury back in February.

10 On Your Side has chosen not to identify the victim by her name. She told the jury she was out drinking with friends when Biggs showed up. She says he asked if he could crash at her place. He says he was invited back.

“The next thing I remember is waking up and the defendant was on top of me,” the victim said. “He stopped and he got off me. I was just in a state of shock. I was frozen and I felt someone pull my underwear back on.”

A year later, Biggs was arrested and charged with rape. He says he was at Vally Forge Military Academy at the time.

“When I found out about the charges, I told myself I didn’t have anything to hide so I was going to prove my innocence,” Biggs said.

Biggs claims the sex was consensual. He would spend the next 17 months in jail. In April 2020, he was given a bond because of the coronavirus pandemic. That December, his bond was revoked.

“He was supposed to have been on house arrest with a GPS monitor and with no accuses to social media,” Hanover County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alison Linas said. “As it turns out, he was not only accessing social media, he was all over the Tidewater area even a far north as New York and Washington D.C.”

Biggs’ trial was set for February and U.S. Marshals went looking for him in January. They couldn’t track him down.

“We didn’t know when he would be found,” Linas added.

“He wasn’t hiding,” said Biggs’ attorney Steven Washington. “He’s a 19-year-old young man. He has no resources. Where can he hide? He’s not Pablo Escobar.”

So, the trial began. The jury heard from numerous people. The only one they didn’t hear was Biggs himself because he wasn’t there for even one minute of the five-day trial.

“None of it at all and I couldn’t even face my accuser, or the jury couldn’t see me face-to-face,” Biggs said.

“When his mother told me that, I thought she was lying,” Washington added.

Washington is now on Biggs’ case. He was retained after the trial.

“You can’t make it up,” Washington said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Prosecutors say Biggs knew when he was scheduled for trial was and chose not to show up. Biggs says he had lost confidence in his former attorney and was scared. The court felt like there was no other choice but to start without him.

“The decision to try someone in their absence is incredibly unusual and never a decision to be taken lightly,” Linas added.

It is so rare that the Hanover Commonwealth’s Attorney Trip Chalkley had never tried a similar case in his 40-year career.

“We have a duty to do justice no matter what that means,” Linas said. “We have to consider what’s fair to everybody including the defendant.”

“You can’t heal from things,” the victim told the judge. “You can’t move on when you have to relive it constantly.”

Which brings Biggs’ story to the end. Marshals found Biggs 11 days after his trial. Last week, a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison.

“This was a non-student who came to campus with the sole purpose of finding someone to have sex with that night and the victim was the unlucky person he targeted,” Linas said.

“God willing that this conviction gets overturned, and I can walk out these doors,” Biggs added.

Washington says he plans to file an appeal on Biggs’ behalf.

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