A man convicted of raping a woman on a Red Line Metro train during her morning commute in 2016 was sentenced to serve two consecutive life terms in prison on Friday.
John Prentice Hicks, 41, received the maximum sentence for his charges in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville after an emotional, nearly two-hour hearing that focused on the pain he caused the nurse he attacked on a train headed to Glenmont when she was returning from an overnight shift at a hospital.
In January, a Montgomery County jury found him guilty on charges of first-degree rape and first-degree sexual offense. According to court testimony, Hicks had approached the woman when she was sleeping, then raped her and forced her to perform a sexual act, all while holding a knife to her side. At one point during the attack, she struggled with him over the knife and he cut her finger.
“Yes, it’s true that the scar on my middle finger has healed,” the woman said during his sentencing. Bethesda Beat does not typically identify the victims of a sexual assault or rape. “But there’s a wound in the core of my being that I don’t know will ever heal.”
In handing down the sentence, Judge Cheryl McCally said that Hicks forever changed the woman’s life and made the community feel unsafe.
“Tax-paying, hardworking people should not have to go on public transportation not knowing if they will be the victim of an unimaginable event or crime,” she said.
Hick’s attorneys, Samantha Sandler and Tatiana David, had asked the judge for a lighter sentence of 30 years for the crime, arguing Hicks would likely not be granted parole and could be reformed. Hicks previously served prison time for two sex offenses in Washington, D.C., and was arrested for indecent exposure on a Metro train the week before the rape occurred.
Sandler noted that Hicks had gone through trauma in his own life. When he was in high school, he was shot in the lung and saw his best friend shot twice in the head during a drive-by shooting. Afterward, he developed a PCP addiction, using the drug daily for “many, many, many years,” she said.
“I know it would be hard for the victim and the community to maybe have compassion for him,” Sandler said. “Everybody has a history and trauma that results in the actions they take.”
Sandler argued that Hicks’ use of PCP had the effect of “frying his brain” and that he was under the influence of the drug the morning of the attack, though prosecutors challenged that timeline.
Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Fenton pushed for the maximum sentence, saying Hicks’ pattern of behavior demonstrated a lack of respect for women and that he had “forfeited his right to live outside a jail cell.” She said the woman he attacked has suffered panic attacks in the two years since, becoming too anxious to take public transportation and afraid whenever a large man is in the room.
“Her entire life has changed,” Fenton said. “She’s lost who she was, her love to travel, her desire to be a nurse.”
After Hicks attacked the woman, he left the train at Glenmont and pointed at her, ordering her to stay on board, according to court documents. When she saw he had boarded another train, she got off the train and ran to a Metro employee to report the crime. Metro police located Hicks hours later based on surveillance video and his use of his SmarTrip card.
Though rare, sexual assaults on the Metro system remain a safety concern. Earlier this month, Montgomery County and Metro police charged Orin Gill, a 25-year-old from Silver Spring, with second-degree rape after he allegedly assaulted a woman on a Red Line train approaching Medical Center station in Bethesda.
During the hearing, Hicks remained quiet and looked down as the woman cried during her testimony. When he later spoke, he said he first wanted to apologize to his family for what he put them through and then said to the woman he was truly sorry she “had to go through such a traumatic experience.”
“I feel like I can do better than what I’ve done in the past,” Hicks said. “Can the court please consider giving me the help that I need?”
After the sentencing Fenton praised the woman for her courage testifying against her attacker. She said the woman’s ability to get off the train and immediately report the crime is what allowed police to catch Hicks.
“She is incredible. I just gave her a hug. She’s very emotional right now,” Fenton said. “She’s a rock star. She’s a hero.”