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Lovett College alumnus charged with burglary with intent to commit a sexual assault

By Yasna Haghdoost and Andrew Ta     4/2/14 7:52am

Two Lovett College students were sexually assaulted in their rooms by a Lovett alumnus during Beer Bike, according to Rice University Police Department Chief Johnny Whitehead.

25-year-old Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Simonette (Lovett ‘11) was arrested Saturday evening and charged with two counts of burglary with intent to commit a sexual assault, which is a first-class felony, Whitehead said.

According to Whitehead, RUPD received a call Saturday at 11:50 a.m. concerning a suspicious individual at Lovett attempting to open doors, but when RUPD responded, they could not locate anyone matching the description. A second call was received at 4:00 p.m. In both incidents, all individuals in the room were sleeping as the victims were fondled by Simonette.

Simonette tried to enter various suites and rooms at Lovett and went into those that were unlocked or open, according to Whitehead.

“He would enter [unlocked] rooms and if you were awake, he left; if you were asleep, he’d take advantage of you,” Whitehead said.

While being investigated by RUPD, Simonette said he did not dispute entering the victims’ beds but did not remember assaulting anyone, claiming he may have blacked out.

Whitehead said the victims did not previously know Simonette and that he may have gained entry in Lovett by following someone into the building.

“They didn’t know him, but he indicated he was an alum, and since it was Beer Bike it wasn’t unusual to find an alum in the college,” Whitehead said.

By checking swipe access to the building, RUPD learned that Simonette attempted to use his old Rice ID to swipe into Lovett but was denied access since his card had expired upon his graduation. This provided RUPD with his name, photo and other information.

“Students shared so much information; it was really helpful,” Whitehead said. “I’m really glad that we were able to apprehend this guy so quickly — within 24 hours. We conferred with the [District Attorney] and thought the appropriate charge was burglary with intent to commit sex offense.”

Simonette, who had no previous criminal record, lives a few miles from campus. According to Whitehead, Simonette is currently posted on bail, pending hearings and finally a trial, unless the District Attorney’s office reaches an agreement with his attorney.

Under Texas law, penetration must occur for an attack to be classified as sexual assault, and so fondling without penetration is considered an assault that only results in a misdemeanor. However, given the circumstances, RUPD decided to press charges for two counts of burglary with intent to commit a sexual assault, which is more serious in nature.

"In order for [an assault] to be a sex offense in Texas, you’d have to have penetration, of which there was none,” Whitehead said. “When we conducted our investigation and consulted with the DA, we came to the conclusion that there was probable cause for the more serious crime, which is a first degree felony.”

Whitehead said that the burglary with intent to commit a sex offense charges address the sexual motivations of Simonette.

“[The charges] means that’s why he broke into the college: to commit these sex offenses,” Whitehead said.

According to the Clery Act Crime Definitions, which is used by universities participating in federal financial aid programs, forcible fondling classifies as a sex offense. While the differing definition used by the state of Texas will ultimately be used for charging Simonette, the definitions outlined in the Clery Act are used for reporting the incident to the Department of Education, according to Whitehead.

The two standing charges of felony can lead to up to 99 years in jail and a $10,000 fine, which is more serious than a misdemeanor charge that would result in only a fine. Whitehead said he believes the felony charges are more appropriate in addressing the sexual nature of the attacks.

“Texas doesn’t distinguish between [a person] pushing you or touching breasts, whereas other states, because of the nature of the crimes, call it a sex offense,” Whitehead said. “I think it’s important that we call it what it is so that the courts take it more seriously, the public takes it more seriously and the people who commit these crimes take it more seriously. I would support calling it some kind of sex offense, because that’s the motivation behind this type of assault. It’s not the same as pushing someone.”

In the first email RUPD sent to the student body Saturday evening, the incident was described as an assault, which differed from the second email sent Sunday morning that indicated the suspect had been charged with two counts of burglary with intent to commit sexual assault.

Whitehead said the initial email was not intended to be specific; rather, the case was clarified in the next email once the investigation had more definitively led to the charges.

“That’s not the time to get into specifically what would be the charge,” Whitehead said. “But I understand where people were confused by the initial notification that said it was an assault, and then the follow up that called it burglary with an intent to commit an offense. Once we had an opportunity to investigate the crime and get more information, we knew specifically what he should be charged with.”

Lovett College Master Matteo Pasquali also clarified the confusion in an email sent out to Lovett College on Monday evening. In the email, Pasquali outlined future safety measures, such as a key check-in system for large events and a new text-alert system in collaboration with Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson.

“We are working with Dean Hutch and the central administration to deploy a college-specific text alert system, so that in any future emergency we could send a rapid text to all Lovetteers in addition to emailing and Facebook posting,” Pasquali said in the email.

Anyone with more information or thinks they may have had an encounter with Simonette is urged to call RUPD at (713) 348-6000.

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