A woman who was raped more than 25 years ago by Essie L. Billingslea, the man accused of attacking an Arlington woman Sunday, said she did not know that a jury had decided to release Billingslea from civil commitment last year, until she learned he was accused in another attack.
“Nobody told me anything,” said the woman, who was 13 years old when Billingslea and two other men raped her in her home in 1988.
Billingslea, who was also convicted of two other rapes, had been held at the Massachusetts Treatment Center until March 2013 when a Suffolk jury voted 12 to 2 to release him, deeming him to no longer be “sexually dangerous.”
Now in her late 30s, the woman learned this week that Billingslea is accused of beating and raping an Arlington woman at knifepoint Sunday. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated rape, kidnapping, home invasion, and assault and battery.
“I thought it was horrible,” the woman said of the new allegations against Billingslea. “But I wasn’t surprised.”
The Globe does not name victims of sex crimes.
Before he was released in 2013, Billingslea served nearly two decades for three rapes: the 1988 assault of the 13-year-old; the rape of an 11-year-old girl in 1986; and a 1993 attack on another 11-year-old girl, a friend of the daughter of his girlfriend at the time. Billingslea was sentenced to five years for the 1988 assault and raped his third victim within 18 months of his release.
Victims have a right to find out when an inmate is released, but they must they tell prosecutors at the time of conviction that they want to be notified by the Department of Correction. They must also report changes of address so officials can contact them, said Toni Troop, spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., a statewide group that advocates for the rights of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
According to the Correction Department, none of Billingslea’s victims asked for that notification.
In 1989, when Billingslea was convicted, the state’s victim witness advocacy program was in its infancy, so there were fewer advocates, who are charged with helping victims navigate the court system. It often fell on underpaid and overworked prosecutors to keep track of witnesses and victims who wanted steady updates of an inmate’s status, said Colby Bruno, a lawyer with the Victims Rights Law Center.
“It’s definitely gotten better,” Bruno said. “By and large, it’s a great program, and it’s opened up a lot of the transparency problems that people had 20 or 30 years ago.”
Billingslea’s victim from 1988 said she also did not learn about the release of the two other men who assaulted her in 1988.
“I didn’t know they got out until I saw them walking on the street,” she said.
In 2013, the state had fought to keep Billingslea committed, arguing that he still met the criteria for a sexually dangerous person. Massachusetts laws define a sexually dangerous person as anyone who was convicted of a sex offense and suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that could lead them to commit a sex crime, or someone who was convicted and shows an inability to control sexual impulses and is therefore likely to attack again.
In Billingslea’s case, the jury heard from two qualified examiners — forensic psychologists sought out by prosecutors to examine an inmate’s case. One agreed Billingslea should remain at the Treatment Center, but the other said Billingslea no longer met the state’s criteria for sexual dangerousness. The case went before a jury, which voted in favor of release.
None of Billingslea’s victims testified in that 2013 trial, according to court records. Unlike criminal trials, in which the prosecutors would need a victim’s testimony to help prove a suspect’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, hearings to determine sexual dangerousness are civil matters. In those trials, the jury does not determine whether a person is guilty; their duty is to determine whether a sex offender still poses a serious risk of committing another sexual assault.
The woman in the 1988 attack said she would not have wanted to testify even if she had had the choice. “I just want to stay out of it,” she said. “It’s in my past. I don’t want to revisit it. I don’t want to relive it.”
On Friday, Billingslea is scheduled to appear in Cambridge District Court in Medford, where prosecutors will argue that he should be held for another 90 days without bail on the charges in the Arlington attack.