FRONT ROYAL — A judge sentenced a Warren County man Monday to prison time for strangling and sexually assaulting a woman in September.
Basil John Chuppa, 41, appeared in Warren County Circuit Court for a sentencing hearing. Authorities initially charged Chuppa with strangulation and aggravated sexual battery, both felonies. Chuppa faced a total maximum punishment of 25 years in prison — 20 years if convicted of aggravated sexual battery and five years for strangulation.
A plea agreement reached in late April between Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton and Chuppa’s lawyer John S. Bell called for the defendant to plead no contest to strangulation and to misdemeanor sexual battery. Sexual battery calls for a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail. Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. accepted the agreement and Chuppa’s pleas of no contest in late April. The agreement allowed the court to determine punishment.
Judge William W. Sharp sentenced Chuppa to four years with two years suspended for the strangulation charge leaving the defendant two years to serve. Sharp sentenced Chuppa to 12 months in jail, all suspended, for sexual battery. The judge ordered Chuppa to complete two years of supervised probation upon release from incarceration. Sharp ordered that Chuppa remain alcohol-free and to have no contact with the victim while on probation.
Layton submitted sentencing guidelines in the case that recommended Chuppa serve at most three years and two months of active time. The presentence report cites Chuppa’s criminal record, which includes convictions on burglary and other felony offenses. Layton also submitted an impact statement completed by the victim.
Layton asked the court to sentence Chuppa at the high end of the guidelines and cited the defendant’s criminal record as well as the victim’s impact statement. Bell acknowledged his client’s “impressive” criminal history but noted that Chuppa’s convictions occurred in the mid-1990s and sporadically through the 2000s. The most recent conviction came in 2013 and, since then, Chuppa has had no problems until last September, Bell said.
Chuppa has had a problem with alcohol and a lot was in play the night of the incident, Bell said.
“Almost every time Mr. Chuppa’s been in trouble he’s been drinking and, as he will tell the court in his right of allocution, that’s something that he has come to terms with his later incarceration,” Bell said.
The defense attorney asked the court to consider sentencing Chuppa to an active term at the low end of the recommended guidelines.
Layton reiterated his request for the court to sentence Chuppa to the 5-year maximum for the felony and suspending all but the recommended active time at the high end of the guidelines.
“That will give him an opportunity with those remaining years over his head to show that he doesn’t deserve all of (the five years) ‘cause arguably he does,” Layton said.
“You have two very different versions of the events as indicated,” Layton added. “Mr. Chuppa essentially calls (the victim) a liar outright.”
Layton called Chuppa’s recent conviction the latest in a pattern of committing crimes.
Chuppa provided a statement to the court.
“I know me,” Chuppa said. “I’ve never been a violent person in my life. I’ve never had a violent crime. I’ve never laid my hands on anyone.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, granted,” Chuppa added. “But to be incarcerated this time, I’ve been in the big book a lot, (Alcoholics Anonymous) and been reading steps and I know now that, you know, it’s not only me that’s hurting it’s my family and I possibly hurt somebody that was a friend of mine.”
Chuppa went on to say he did not believe he committed the crime and added that he drank so much alcohol the night of the incident he couldn’t remember what happened.
Sharp said he considered the presentence report, arguments made and the victim impact statement in deciding the punishment. Sharp spoke first of the Class 6 strangulation charge.
“This is a very serious offense,” Sharp said. “The fact that it’s the lowest classified felony I think belittles the seriousness which I take a matter like this.
“When you put your hands around someone’s neck, you put their life at risk, and, frankly, research has shown us ... in incidents that can get to that point that the risk of serious injury or death to somebody is many, many times higher than any other kind of abuse like just hitting someone, slapping, kicking,” Sharp added.
The judge called Chuppa’s misdemeanor sexual battery charge a “very serious invasion on (the victim).”
At the April 29 hearing, Layton provided a synopsis of the evidence the prosecutor intended to present had the case gone to trial. Evidence would have shown that a former girlfriend of Chuppa’s agreed to come to the defendant’s home to talk to and provide advice because of problems he had with a current girlfriend, Layton told the court. Parties understood the meeting would not be romantic in nature, Layton said.
The victim arrived at Chuppa’s residence and brought alcohol as mutually agreed upon, Layton said in his synopsis. Both talked for a period of time before Chuppa attempted to become romantic with the victim, Layton said. The victim told Chuppa that was not why she was there, that she did not want to get romantic and tried to rebuff his advances, the prosecutor went on to say.
Chuppa persisted, pulled her breasts out of her top and tried to proceed further at which point she tried to push him away, Layton said. Chuppa grabbed her around the neck and then bit her, Layton added. The victim pushed Chuppa and struck him, causing the defendant to fall to the ground after which he started snoring, according to the synopsis.
The victim drove away in her vehicle, contacted a friend to meet her and briefly described what happened, Layton said. The victim later went to Project Phoenix where she spoke to a representative at the domestic violence organization. The victim reported the matter to law enforcement, Layton said.
The prosecutor provided photographs taken of the victim during a forensic examination of her injuries. Layton told the court the victim’s voice remained raspy and hoarse days after the incident.
Chuppa told an investigator he only hugged the victim when she started to leave, Layton said. Chuppa admitted to the investigator he had been drinking but that no romantic activity ever occurred, according to Layton’s synopsis.
However, within 24 hours of Chuppa’s arrest and subsequent booking at Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, the defendant called his girlfriend and explained the events of the incident with the victim, Layton said. Layton added that Chuppa blamed himself but also mentions in the conversation with his girlfriend that he didn’t remember any events from the night of the incident.