Sidney Stinnie admits he shot a man. He admits he sold drugs. But he emphatically denies that he sexually assaulted former City Council candidate James Halfaday in the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail in 2013. The prosecution appears to agree and dropped a forcible sodomy charge against him in February.
“I lost family members,” said Stinnie, 32, in a phone interview from Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville, where he’s serving five years on unrelated charges. “Some of them looked at me like I was a monster because they thought I raped a man.”
It was not the first time that Halfaday has made claims that came up short. In 2011, he ran for Charlottesville City Council while living in Albemarle County, and was charged with four counts of election fraud for lying about his place of residence. He pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and five years probation in 2012, according to Charlottesville Circuit Court records.
Also in 2011, as part of his campaign, he claimed he owned Snap Fitness gym in Seminole Square, an assertion publicly disputed in media accounts by its real owners through an attorney. And Halfaday, the first openly gay candidate to run for City Council, accused a married woman working on an opponent’s campaign of stalking him and violating an emergency protective order, a charge thrown out of Charlottesville General District Court in November 2011 because the only evidence of contact was a blank text message. That accusation left the woman “traumatized,” said her attorney.
That wasn’t the end of Halfaday’s legal misadventures. While on probation in 2012 after his 60 days in jail, he contacted his former partner with threatening calls and a 13-minute video of the couple’s pet cat, Volley, being euthanized, evidence the prosecution presented in court in February 2013, when Halfaday was sentenced to four months for probation violation for contacting the former partner. It was during that stint in jail that his path crossed Stinnie’s, according to records in Albemarle County Circuit Court.
Both men were in a high-risk protective custody block of eight individual cells under 23-hours-a-day lockdown, with one hour of recreation, according to court documents. Halfaday claimed that on March 26, 2013, while Stinnie was out of his cell, he reached through the bars of Halfaday’s cell, and forced him to his knees to perform oral sex, according to court documents.
At a July 13, 2013, preliminary hearing, Halfaday testified that Stinnie forced him to perform oral sex not once, but twice through the bars of the cell. The second time, the act was interrupted by an officer who had entered the block. Halfaday testified that he remained on his knees while Stinnie retreated to his cell until the officer left, then returned and forced Halfaday to continue the act through the bars, according to court documents.
Stinnie’s attorney, Adam Rhea, said the notion that his client could commit a sexual assault through the bars of a locked cell was preposterous, but there was one hitch: Halfaday had Stinnie’s DNA, which Halfaday claimed came from semen that he spat into a napkin after the alleged assault and had mailed to a friend, telling that person to put it in the freezer.
Stinnie denies that he ever had any kind of sexual encounter with Halfaday, and he suggested Halfaday could have collected his DNA without his knowing. “We do things to relieve ourselves,” he said, and in the preliminary hearing, Albemarle police Detective Elisa Espinoza testified Stinnie told her he’d ejaculated into a newspaper and threw it into the trashcan. Stinnie said he was told by other inmates that Halfaday had been in Stinnie’s cell.
As a result of Halfaday’s rape allegation, said Stinnie, “I spent 28 months in the hole,” referring to the isolation block. “My family abandoned me.”
At a February 4 motions hearing, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Matt Quatrara dropped the charges. “As prosecutors, we have a duty to suspend prosecution when a case can no longer be substantiated by the evidence,” he said in an e-mail. “Our office takes that duty seriously, and we exercised it in this case, for reasons that were spelled out on the record in court during the motions hearing.” He declined to elaborate on the specific reasons.
According to Rhea, Quatrara said the Commonwealth had lost confidence in this charge. Rhea called it an “honorable decision.”
Halfaday is now on probation in his hometown of Dunfermline, Illinois, and he did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment for this story.
In court records, an October 2012 psychological evaluation by mental health clinician Richard Feldman diagnosed Halfaday with narcissistic personality disorder and cites a subtype referred to as “unscrupled narcissist” that features “being exploitative, deceptive, pathologically dishonest, superficially charming and lacking in concern for others.”
In that same report, Feldman said Halfaday was evasive about his “history of dishonesty” and blamed others for falsely accusing him, including this reporter, whom Halfaday said “lied about him in retaliation for Halfaday refusing romantic advances.”
Stinnie worries that what happened to him will happen to others. “Everybody needs to know about James Halfaday,” he said. “He’s a liar. He can’t be trusted.”
And Stinnie, who had a brief run as a fugitive after shooting a man November 26, 2012, on Page Street and who was described as “armed and dangerous” in a wanted poster before he turned himself in four days later, said he would “go to sleep crying every night” because of the rape charge.
With another 30 months to serve on the cocaine distribution, malicious wounding, felon in possession of a firearm, and use of a firearm in a felony convictions, Stinnie said he’s older and humbler, as well as a devout Muslim. “I just want to get out and be a productive citizen,” he said. “I will never let this situation define me when I know in my heart I did nothing wrong.”