It was his word versus hers, and in a two-day trial, a jury believed him.
In the case where ex-Charlottesville Police Department officer Christopher Seymore was charged with forcibly sodomizing Ronna Gary—twice—in her Shamrock Road home, a jury deliberated four-and-a-half hours and found him not guilty on both counts.
Gary claimed that two November 18, 2016, sexual encounters with Seymore were against her will—that he was a cop, with a badge and a gun, and when he unzipped his pants, she felt pressured to her knees in her living room, where she says she had no choice but to perform oral sex on him.
“What was I supposed to do,” Gary said during her lengthy testimony. “He’s a cop.”
Seymore was responding to a hit-and-run incident on her street early that morning when Gary came outside, told the officer what she saw and invited him into her home while he waited for a truck to tow the impaired vehicle. And although they both agree that after the truck came Seymore removed his body camera and went back inside Gary’s house, the two accounts diverge from there.
Before the trial, Gary had spoken to multiple media outlets—including C-VILLE—about her version of what happened. But it was in Charlottesville Circuit Court on March 5 that the public heard Seymore’s side of the story for the first time.
When he took the witness stand, the former cop said Gary had been flirting with him throughout the night.
Internal affairs investigator Brian O’Donnell, who viewed Seymore’s body cam footage, also testified he thought Gary seemed flirtatious. (Because of a miscommunication, it was not preserved.)
She said he could come to her house any time without a warrant, Seymore said. When she showed him around her abode, she allegedly took him to the bedroom and said, “This is where the magic happens.” Seymore said she called him “the hottest cop [she’d] ever seen.”
“She made me feel good,” Seymore testified. “And I hadn’t felt good in a long time.”
The former cop said he’d been married since February of that year. His wife had just given birth to their son, who is now 18 months old. Seymore also has full custody of his 7-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, and he testified that in the same year of the offense, his wife’s dog had attacked his daughter, his daughter was hospitalized with severe asthma, he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder from his time serving as a sergeant the U.S. Army, and his wife was coping with postpartum depression.
“My life was in shambles,” he said. “[Ronna] made me feel liked.”
After she performed fellatio on him, Seymore said he went to the police department to finish writing his report for the hit-and-run.
Gary testified that she took a sleeping aid and was awakened by a loud banging on her bedroom window a few hours later, around 7:45am. It was Seymore. He was back, dressed in plainclothes and asking to come inside.
Seymore testified that about five minutes after he asked to come inside, she appeared in a “very sexy piece of lingerie.” He said she led him to her bedroom where she asked to have intercourse, but after she couldn’t find a condom, she performed oral sex for the second time. The two discussed that Seymore would come back next time he was on duty. He’d go buy a “big box” of condoms and leave it at her house, he said.
Gary testified she performed oral sex both times because she was intimidated and she feared what would happen if she didn’t. She denied inviting him back.
Defense attorney Elizabeth Murtagh showed the jury texts that Gary sent her ex-boyfriend shortly thereafter. One message said Seymore was only 34, noted the size of his penis, that he had a “body from hell” and that he “likes handcuffs.”
The officer never came back. Gary made contact with Seymore about 10 days later when the two exchanged several phone calls. In one of them, they both testified they chatted casually about Thanksgiving and their families. Seymore said Gary asked him to loan her money to buy Christmas presents for her kids—a claim that she denies.
Call logs show that after she hung up the phone, she dialed Officer Declan Hickey, an acquaintance who had helped her initially get in touch with Seymore. Hickey testified that this is when Gary told him Seymore forcibly sodomized her. He reported it, and the whirlwind began.
Murtagh painted Gary as a money hungry woman with financial issues. She called the case a “cash cow” for Gary, who told friends that she could make a million dollars off of it, an allegation Gary didn’t dispute. The attorney showed the judge an issue of C-VILLE Weekly in which it was reported a friend had created a crowdfunding site for Gary to raise enough money to move out of Charlottesville.
Murtagh called Martin Kumer, the superintendent of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, to testify about another instance in which Gary allegedly asked for money. Kumer said Gary filed an undisclosed complaint against the jail, so he went to her house to investigate it.
“She slid a piece of paper across her coffee table,” Kumer said, and told him she wouldn’t go to the media if he paid the amount she had written on the paper. It was $5,000.
Murtagh also questioned the alleged victim’s credibility. She told the jury about a 2005 case in Howard County, Maryland, in which Gary “fabricated” a “pretty outrageous” story that involved a carjacking and an abduction and was found guilty of filing a false police report.
In her closing argument, she asked the jury why people lie—and said it’s often to self promote.
“I know [lie] is a strong word, but it’s the word I’m using,” Murtagh said.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania said the jury must decide if Garly truly made a voluntary decision about what she wanted to do with her body. He said the whole case boils down to two words: “submission and consent.”
“The jury worked hard on this case,” said Judge Rick Moore before the verdict was announced. He noted the attentiveness of the group of six men and six women who had to decide the fate of Seymore, who faced life in prison.
Gary, who was visibly emotional throughout the two-day trial, didn’t shed a single tear as the clerk read the verdict at 11:30pm on March 6. A red-nosed jury member could be seen wiping her eyes, however.
“It’s been a long journey for her and I think she’s also going to take some time to digest it,” Platania said outside the courtroom. “It’s an emotional evening for her.”
Seymore’s wife, who reached out to this reporter, declined to comment on the record.
Murtagh did not respond to an interview request.
In a March 8 phone call with Gary, she said she was packing up her things and planning to move out of Charlottesville by the afternoon. She says she leaves behind the “love of her life,” and a community she’s made safer by working undercover as a confidential informant for the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force, which was revealed during the trial.
“It’s International Women’s Day and I don’t feel like women are celebrated today,” she says. “This has been devastating. My life will never be the same.”
She calls the past year and a half “painful and exhausting.”
“I did not do this for money,” she says. “There is nothing glamorous about a rape trial.”