Man accused of rape, arson to ask to move trial

Shane Sisk

WOODSTOCK – A man accused of raping a woman and trying to wrap her up in a burning blanket wants a judge to move his trial.

Shane Wesley Sisk remains held without bond in the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail on charges of rape, forcible sodomy, object penetration, domestic assault, abduction with the intent to defile, arson of an occupied dwelling, malicious wounding and strangulation.

Sisk faces a trial on the charges scheduled for Aug. 22 in Shenandoah County Circuit Court. A judge could consider pretrial motions at a hearing set for Wednesday.

Sisk’s attorney Michael Araj filed a motion in May asking to move the trial to another locality. Araj argued in his motion that coverage of the case by the news media and a video posted by the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office on the agency’s official Facebook page likely has tainted the pool of potential jurors, undermining his client’s right to a fair and impartial jury.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Austin M. Hovermale filed a response to Araj’s motion in June.

“In the case at bar, the Defendant seeks a change of venue from Shenandoah County based on a single news release video posted to the Facebook webpage of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, (and) news coverage in this case consisting of an article in the Northern Virginia Daily and an article in The Free Press,” Hovermale’s response states. “The news release video from the SCSO provided an overview of the incident, the fact that the Defendant was identified as a suspect, and the fact that the Defendant was taken into custody.

“Upon information and belief, the news articles provided factual information about the crimes and about the testimony at the preliminary hearing,” Hovermale adds in his response.

A motion to change venue must overcome the presumption that a defendant can receive a fair trial in the jurisdiction in which the offense took place, Hovermale notes. In order to overcome the presumption, a defendant must clearly show that such a widespread feeling of prejudice exists in the community as to prevent a fair and impartial trial, the response adds. Neither extensive publicity nor widespread knowledge of the crime justifies change of venue, Hovermale argues, citing a court decision.

“The burden for showing a change of venue necessary is high, and the Defendant has not come close to justifying such a change in this case,” Hovermale states.

The prosecutor goes on to add that all three sources identified in the defense motion provided factual information about the case.

A criminal complaint filed with the initial charging documents in Sisk’s case accuses the defendant of forcing entry into the victim’s Shenandoah County residence late in the evening of Feb. 23. Sisk then forced the victim into an upstairs bedroom where he assaulted and choked her before committing sex acts against the woman against her will, the complaint states. At one point in the bedroom, the complaint states, Sisk used a lighter to set a blanket on fire, which he then tried to wrap around the victim.

Authorities found Sisk in the 100 block of Harman Road, Maurertown, the morning of Feb. 24 and arrested him without incident. The complaint notes that Sisk had lived with the victim within the past year. A magistrate noted on a checklist use to determine bail that that defendant claimed he had a key to the victim’s residence.

Sisk’s case originated in Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. A judge certified Sisk’s charges to a grand jury, including one count of breaking and entering. The grand jury handed down indictments for all of Sisk’s charges, except the count of breaking and entering.