Former Trinity sophomore Eric Irons has been placed on probation after accepting a structured sentencing agreement for a misdemeanor sexual battery charge in Durham County district court.
Under the May 16 agreement, called deferred prosecution, Irons received a $500 fine and has been placed on 24 months of unsupervised probation, according to court documents that define the terms of the sentence. If Irons complies with the special conditions of his probation—including writing a letter of apology to the victim, performing 100 hours of community service and submitting to both specific sexual abuser treatment and a mental health evaluation—the case would be dismissed.
“It’s not technically a guilty plea... it’s an admission of responsibility,” Kelley Gauger, a Durham County assistant district attorney, said in an interview Wednesday. Gauger began working on the Irons case in early 2011. “So it’s a deferred prosecution in that it is not a conviction. He’s placed on unsupervised probation... with specific terms that he’ll follow through with, and if he does follow through with them, he can have his case dismissed.... If he doesn’t, we can always prosecute later.”
The prosecution voluntarily dismissed the felonious second-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping charges May 5 that Irons originally faced, according to court documents. Gauger said she moved to dismiss the charges less than two weeks before Irons’ scheduled appearance in court to prosecute on the misdemeanor charge instead.
This misdemeanor charge of sexual battery alleges that Irons “for the purpose of sexual arousal and sexual gratification engage[d] in sexual contact, touching the victim’s breasts or vagina... by force and against the will of the other person,” according to the court’s statement of charges document.
Duke Police arrested Irons Sept. 8, 2010, on charges of second-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping of a 20-year-old female student. He was released the same day on a $75,000 bond, according to court records, and withdrew from the University Sept. 9.
In an interview with Duke Police after the incident—a party at a Central Campus apartment April 17, 2010—Irons admitted to engaging in sexual conduct with the victim but denied having sexual intercourse, according to the probable cause affidavit filed by the Duke University Police Department last September.
Irons’ Durham-based lawyer, Bill Thomas, did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article. In an October interview with The Chronicle, however, he maintained his client’s innocence against the initial charges of second-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping.
The victim also appeared in court Monday, Gauger said, but she could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. It is Chronicle policy not to identify the victims of sexual assault cases.
Gauger said the victim has been cooperating with prosecutors throughout the process, but in order to protect the victim’s privacy, Gauger declined to comment on the results of DNA samples taken from Irons in September or on reasons the prosecution chose to seek structured sentencing on the reduced charge.
“There are going to be a lot of reasons that factor into why we pursue deferred prosecution,” Gauger said. “I can tell you that overall, based on taking a good hard look at the case and after consulting with the victim, we decided it was the best resolution.”
Irons, 19, received unsupervised probation because he lives in Hong Kong, Gauger said. Thomas must appear in court every 90 days to report on Irons’ status, starting Aug. 19, according to court documents.
Thomas said in October that Irons had not decided whether he might try to re-enroll at Duke. If Irons returns to North Carolina for school or work within the 24-month probation period, he must report to Durham County probation within 48 hours to be placed on supervised probation until his term expires, according to court documents.
Irons did not respond to a Facebook message request for comment and declined to comment through a friend.
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