On Wednesday (May 23), after a lengthy investigation of a six-year-old crime, a Georgia jury ordered the defendant, a security company, to pay $1 billion to a young woman who was raped by an employee at 14. Hope Cheston was with her boyfriend outside of an apartment complex when an armed security guard approached them, asked the boyfriend not to move, and proceeded to rape her, according to the Associated Press.
Per attorney L. Chris Stewart, the suspect, Brandon Lamar Zachary, was arrested on statutory rape charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Renatta Cheston-Thorton filed the initial lawsuit in March 2015 on behalf of the then 17-year-old Hope. In court, it was discovered that the liability began at Zachary’s hire; the 22-year-old wasn’t licensed to be an armed guard, Stewart said. After it was established, the only work left for the jury was determining appropriate recompense.
The company, Crime Prevention Agency, has yet to comment. A person named Mario Watts is listed as the CEO of the company, a corporate agent who the jury was able to identify as a plaintiff for the case in this lawsuit.
“I feel like my case is just to show that you may not get it immediately, but you will get what you’re worth,” Cheston said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
The verdict is unusual. In rape cases, one can expect an award in the high millions but $1 billion is uncommon. Jeff Dion, the director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, wrote in an email “This jury was clearly trying to send a message about bad conduct on the part of the company.”
“For the longest, I just thought it was swept under the rug and that it no longer mattered and that it just is what it is,” Cheston said. “But come to find out that 12 strangers feel like what I went through and my story and how I feel–after six years–is worth a billion dollars? That is life-changing, history-making. Just beautiful news to know.”