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Acquitted Roanoke College student's suit against accuser has new court date

A 2015 civil suit brought by a Roanoke College student against a woman who accused him of sexual assault is moving forward in Salem Circuit Court and now has an August court date.

The suit was filed by Ezra Zigarwi, 20, who as a freshman was charged with rape and aggravated sexual battery following a March 2015 incident at a dormitory.

In November of that year, following a daylong trial, Zigarwi was acquitted of the charges by a jury that deliberated for less than half an hour.

The following month, he also was cleared at an on-campus sexual misconduct hearing and he has since re-enrolled at the school. That same month he filed suit against the woman.

Zigarwi’s suit alleges that after his acquittal, his accuser intentionally published false statements about him on social media and in an online petition.

In an amended complaint filed Tuesday in Salem Circuit Court, his suit claims defamation and negligence and asks for $500,000 in damages.

It also seeks to restrict the defendant from making statements about her allegations, and it asks that she be forced to remove any online statements or posts about it that might exist.

Roanoke College’s student directory says Zigarwi, who is from Zimbabwe, is registered as a sophomore. His accuser is not listed as a student on the website. The Roanoke Times does not name people who file sexual assault reports.

Zigarwi’s attorney, Stephen Kennedy, could not immediately be reached Friday. Matthew Schottmiller, who represents the defendant, said he wasn’t able to comment about the pending case.

In March, nine months after the previous filing, Schottmiller entered a request to have the case dismissed, but that was answered this week by the amended complaint.

The next hearing in the civil case is set for Aug. 29.

During the criminal trial, the accuser testified that on the night of March 15, 2015, she had been drinking on campus for several hours. She invited a male friend over to her room but he declined. Soon after that, she said, Zigarwi contacted her, and she invited him into her second-floor dorm room.

A sexual encounter occurred, but she and Zigarwi gave different accounts of whether she had consented.

After he left, she called the male friend from earlier and told him she had been assaulted, and they notified campus security.

In her cross-examination of the accuser, Zigarwi’s defense attorney, Deborah Caldwell-Bono, brought forward apparent contradictions between statements the woman gave to police and her courtroom testimony, specifically about her level of intoxication that night and her relationship to the friend she had called for help.

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