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St. Paul’s senior accused of burning girlfriend’s leg with a lamp

Last modified: 5/19/2015 12:42:47 AM
Less than a year after a graduating student at St. Paul’s School was arrested and accused of raping a female underclassman, another senior has been criminally charged with burning his girlfriend’s leg.

Ronald “Hopper” Hillegass, 18, faces four Class A misdemeanors, all apparently stemming from the same incident Jan. 17. He was detained last month on a warrant by the Concord police, and has since been released on $6,000 personal recognizance bail.

Hillegass, a reported honors student and active member of the rowing team, was initially barred from campus, and from having contact with the girl or any other students there, excepting his sister, who also attends. A judge in Concord’s district court amended those conditions yesterday, allowing Hillegass to return for the remainder of the term and the school’s May 31 graduation ceremony, should administrators approve.

At the hearing, city prosecutor Tracy Connolly said Hillegass caused second-degree burns to the girl’s skin by pressing a hot lamp to her after a school dance. The incident occurred about 11 p.m., according to the charges.

Hillegass is a Connecticut native and plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, according to his attorney, Cathy Green. He is a prefect serving in the student admissions office, a member of the debate team, a head acolyte and, until the arrest, was on track to graduate summa cum laude, Green said.

“He is presumed innocent,” she told Judge Gerard Boyle yesterday, explaining their request for amended bail conditions. “He should be allowed to return to school. He should be able to attend his graduation.”

The alleged victim, 17, is also expected to graduate this month. Connolly said the two were in a relationship until the incident, but have since cut ties. As part of his bail, Hillegass is prohibited from contacting or coming within 100 feet of the girl.

Connolly urged Boyle to continue the campus restriction, noting that the girl has already been ostracized by fellow students for pressing charges on a star athlete and widely beloved figure. She said the girl has been threatened and verbally abused by classmates, and that school officials have done little to stem the harassment.

“This is without the defendant there,” Connolly said. “This environment is only going to get worse if the defendant is allowed to return.”

It’s unclear whether Hillegass will be allowed to return, and if so, what restrictions may be placed on him. A spokeswoman for the school declined to comment on that or the case, or about Hillegass in general.

According to the girl’s father, who spoke at the hearing, administrators assured him months ago that Hillegass would be “separated” from the school should he be arrested. He said the fallout from her coming forward has been nearly as traumatic as the assault itself.

“Not only is she suffering from the incident, but she’s suffering at the school as an isolated figure,” he said. “The friends she used to have are no longer her friends.”

The incident rekindles concerns over behavior at the school one year after the arrest of Owen Labrie, a promising young student athlete now charged with raping a 15-year-old girl two days before graduation, as part of an annual competition among seniors. Labrie has denied the allegations, and the case could go to trial this summer.

St. Paul’s has not commented directly on the Labrie case, but Rector Michael Hirschfeld did notify parents last year of several changes meant to curb the school’s “hook-up” culture.

In August, he said the school had officially banned sexual solicitation and games involving sexual conquest, and would bring in anti-bullying specialists to work with staff and students. He also said the school planned to implement a new bystander training program.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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