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Lawyers say feds should apologize to the first man accused of National Park murders

Dierdre Enright and Gerald Zerkin speak at a news conference Monday, June 24, 2024.
Sandy Hausman
/
Radio IQ
Dierdre Enright and Gerald Zerkin speak at a news conference Monday, June 24, 2024.

Seven years after prosecutors accused Darrell Rice of killing Lollie Winans and Julie Williams, one of his lawyers was going through a list of about 350 pieces of evidence.

“And when I got to 332 it said – on the version that was turned over to us – socks. But in the original it said gloves," she recalls. "Then I found a memo written by an FBI agent that said, ‘These gloves do not appear to belong to either victim,’

So Deirdre Enright asked to see the gloves, and after – at first – insisting there were no gloves, investigators found them.

“They turn the gloves inside out, and knuckle hairs fall out. Seven years of running after Darrell Rice when there were gloves that I’m sure were full of DNA.”

Now, she and attorney Gerald Zerkin want to know why that DNA was not tested immediately.

“The fact is that we’ve been asking the government to do more DNA testing for years," Zerkin says.

Christopher Kavanaugh, second from right, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, gestures as Stanley Meador, right, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Richmond Field Office, listens during a news conference concerning the 1996 murders of Laura "Lollie" Winans and Julianne "Julie" Williams at a campsite in the Shenandoah national park, Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Richmond, Va. Colonel Gary Settle, stands second from left, and Christopher Kuvlesky, left, Special Agent in Charge of Operations, National Park Service.
Steve Helber
/
AP
Christopher Kavanaugh, second from right, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, gestures as Stanley Meador, right, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Richmond Field Office, listens during a news conference concerning the 1996 murders of Laura "Lollie" Winans and Julianne "Julie" Williams at a campsite in the Shenandoah national park, Thursday, June 20, 2024, in Richmond, Va. Colonel Gary Settle, stands second from left, and Christopher Kuvlesky, left, Special Agent in Charge of Operations, National Park Service.

We asked the U.S. attorney about the DNA analysis that finally cracked the case and why it had not been done sooner. His office sent the inquiry to the FBI which informed us they are not releasing any new information or giving interviews at this time.

Zerkin also contends the prosecution withheld evidence that did not fit with its case against Rice. There was, for example, a waitress who said she served Winans and Williams at a park lodge.

“She gave a remarkably detailed description of the women. It is the most detailed description I have ever seen – down to calcium deposits on Julie’s teeth, but after Rice became the target, the agent who had done the original interview returned to her and told her that she was wrong. It wasn’t when Rice was in the park, so it couldn’t have been the women.”

The U.S. Attorney at the time argued this was a hate crime -- that Rice killed the two women because they were gay.

“The government had claimed that Rice admitted, in a recorded discussion with a snitch, that he hated gays and lesbians. That’s where their whole ‘hate crime’ came from. When we had the tape enhanced, it showed that what he actually said was, ‘They (that is the government agents) say I hate gays.’ That makes me mad.”

And because they could not make a case against him based on DNA, Enright says, they relied on paid informants.

“There had been an undercover agent in his cell with him. He wrote to Darrell for years, visited him, trying to get a confession out of him. He told Darrell that he had gone up to the Shenandoah National Park, and he happened upon a couple of women. He helped them repair their car, but then he told Darrell did they want to have dinner with me or go on a date? No, they did not, and so the idea was that Darrell would say, ‘I had that problem with some women up in the national park.’ He then said to Darrell, after they left their camp site I went and started a fire, and I burned hundreds of acres. I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to burn their tent down, and Darrell says to the agent, ‘Dude, you need to try yoga, because you shouldn’t get that mad at people.’”

 Even after the case was dismissed, she adds, the prosecutor insisted Rice was the killer – and the former U.S. attorney helped bring state charges against him for another murder.

“Four months after that case was dismissed, Darrell Rice was indicted by Prince William County – Paul Ebert up in Prince William County, was the longest-serving prosecutor in the state of Virginia. And federal agents shipped the tatters of what remained to him, hoping that he would do to Darrell Rice what they couldn’t do.”

When that case began falling apart, Enright said, Rice got several offers of a plea deal.

“Darrell turned each one down. He didn’t even want to talk about it with us, but when they got to: He can enter an Alford plea with no time served, I said, ‘There’s nothing to talk about here. You have to take this,” Enright says.

“Facing a life sentence, Darrell plead no contest while asserting his innocence to the judge and stating that he was doing it only for strategic reasons,” Zerkin adds.

Now, the lawyers say, it’s time for federal officials to correct misinformation about their client. They say he did not have a long history of violence against women and is owed a public apology. His sister says Rice is unable to live a normal life – unable to find employment, because a simple Google search of his name produces terrifying results. And Enright, who heads UVA’s Center for Justice, is looking for ways to keep this kind of injustice from happening again.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief