After nearly 45 minutes of deliberation last Tuesday, a jury found a Nelson County man guilty of breaking into an elderly woman’s home and sexually assaulting her.
Oscar James Vest, 66, maintained his innocence in Nelson Circuit Court on charges of aggravated sexual battery, object sexual penetration and breaking and entering in the June 2017 incident at a Lovingston apartment complex. The jury recommended a sentence of 18 years on the combined charges.
Nelson Circuit Court Judge Frederick Watson dismissed an abduction charge against Vest prior to the verdicts.
Vest knocked on the victim’s door, forced his way into the home, pushed her against a wall and sexually assaulted her, according to prosecutors’ opening statement. Nellie Black, a University of Virginia law student certified to assist the Nelson Commonwealth Attorney’s Office in prosecuting the case, said after the assault Vest demanded the victim make him lunch.
The victim suffered from health issues, waited for the “nightmare” to end and immediately reported the incident, Black said.
“Physically trying to fight him off was not a fight she was going to win,” Black told jurors.
Vest’s DNA was linked to the victim. His attorney, Scott De Bruin, said the defense doesn’t deny a sexual encounter took place and argued the woman initiated it. “The sole issue ... is whether this was a consensual act, pure and simple,” De Bruin said to the jury.
The victim testified she never had met Vest and he slapped her during the incident, which left her in shock. When asked if she could physically get up during the encounter she said: “Absolutely not.”
Robert New, a former Nelson County Sheriff’s Office captain, said he interviewed the victim shortly after the assault and she appeared frail, disoriented and unable to speak clearly.
Nelson County Sheriff’s investigator Jeremy Tabler testified he responded to the scene and in the course of the investigation he questioned Vest and collected a DNA sample. An apartment manager testified she observed Vest on the grounds around noon the day of the incident and from a distance observed him at the victim’s doorway appearing to engage in conversation.
Vest testified he was at the Lovingston apartment complex to visit a family member that day and came into contact with the woman when she invited him in to check out a burn spot on her floor. When he entered the residence she was the one who initiated the sexual contact, Vest testified.
The defendant testified he ran out the door at one point and wouldn’t have gone in if he knew what would transpire. “Hell no, I would not have been there,” Vest said.
Vest testified he had fingernail scratches from the encounter. Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Erik Laub asked if he disclosed that fact to authorities.
“Why would I? They never asked me,” Vest said to Laub. “You’re the first one.”
Laub asked jurors to weigh the credibility of the witnesses. “His story doesn’t make any sense,” he said of Vest’s version of the unfolding of events.
Vest has been incarcerated in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail since his 2017 arrest, and three previous mistrials resulting from one deadlocked jury and two others that could not be seated.
He faced a maximum of life plus 40 years in prison. At the conclusion of the daylong trial, the jury recommended three years for the burglary charge, 5 years on aggravated sexual battery and 10 years for the object sexual penetration charge.
The judge can lower the prison time but cannot exceed it at sentencing.
“This is not the type of offense that requires Mr. Vest spend the rest of his life in prison,” De Bruin told jurors on considering the punishment.
Laub said Vest was convicted of rape and burglary in 1977 in Nelson County and asked the jury to consider that in recommending its sentence.
“You are the voice of the community,” Laub told jurors, adding: “I want you to protect the next person. Clearly, it’s happened twice.”
A sentencing hearing is scheduled in Nelson Circuit Court for 2 p.m. April 22. Vest remains in custody awaiting sentencing.
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.