Defense tries to block abuse claims, shooting other girlfriend, in Bethany Decker disappearance trial

Loudoun County courthouse is seen on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

When Ronald Roldan goes on trial, charged with second-degree murder in Loudoun County, Virginia, over the 2011 disappearance of Bethany Decker, his lawyers don’t want jurors to know he was convicted of shooting and almost killing another girlfriend.

In a motion filed Monday in the Loudoun County Circuit Court, public defender Lorie O’Donnell requested a judge preclude jurors from hearing claims that Roldan was physically abusive with Decker, before she was last seen in their apartment on Jan. 29, 2011.

Or, that Roldan was charged with attempted murder after a 2014 domestic violence attack on his girlfriend Vickey Willoughby, at her home in Pinecrest, North Carolina.

Roldan shot Willoughby in the head, costing her an eye and nearly killing her. He pleaded guilty to reduced charges, and spent six years in a North Carolina prison.

Loudoun County investigators have said that Roldan was living with Bethany Decker before she disappeared in Jan. 2011, while she was five months pregnant. She had previously told family members that Roldan had been physically abusive.

Willoughby said Roldan had told her he could “make people disappear.”

In the recent motion, O’Donnell laid out circumstantial details of the current case against her client: “There is no specific proof or direct evidence that Bethany Decker is deceased. There is no direct evidence that a murder was committed. There is no crime scene. There is no murder weapon. There is no evidence of foul play.”

O’Donnell said the circumstances in Decker’s disappearance don’t meet the standards that would allow for inclusion of prior or subsequent acts: “It is well established that evidence of other offenses should be excluded if offered merely for the purpose of showing that the accused was likely to commit the crime charged in the indictment.”

In her motion, O’Donnell said evidence in the Willoughby case has no bearing on the Decker case: “They are unconnected, they are distinct and wholly separated.”

The defense said allowing jurors to hear mention of claims of previous abuse or subsequent violence would make it impossible for Roldan to get a fair trial: “Rather than simply fighting the murder charge, Mr. Roldan would be in the position of conducting a series of trials within his trial.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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