A Georgia rape victim was awarded $1 billion in what’s believed to be the largest jury verdict ever handed down in an American assault case, according to reports Friday.
“It’s one of the biggest victories for women in the United States,” Chris Stewart, a lawyer for victim Hope Cheston, said at a press conference.
“They said a little black girl in Clayton County who was raped is worth $1 billion. That was a big win for us,” he said, according to the local station 11alive.com.
Cheston was 14 years old and visiting a friend in October 2012 when she was attacked by apartment security guard Brandon Lamar Zachary in an Atlanta suburb, according to court documents cited by the station.
A civil jury ruled Tuesday that the security company that hired the guard, Crime Prevention Agency, must fork over the massive payout because it failed to properly monitor their violent worker, who had a history of bad behavior, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Sexual assault is sexual assault. It’s not right, and it needs to be punished,” Cheston, 20, said after the verdict, according to USA Today.
It’s “life-changing” to know the jury understands her pain, she said.
“For the longest, I just thought it was swept under the rug and that it no longer mattered and that it just is what it is,” Cheston said.
“But come to find out that 12 strangers feel like what I went through and my story and how I feel — after six years — is worth a billion dollars — that is life-changing, history-making. Just beautiful news to know,” she said.
After the attack, Zachary, who worked at Pointe South Apartments in Jonesboro, was convicted of statutory rape and child molestation and sentenced to 20 years behind bars in June 2016.
The security company failed to “properly supervise and/or monitor its security officer,” according to Cheston’s lawsuit, filed against the firm in 2015.
The company knew the guard had acted out against guests in the past but “ignored the circumstances that any reasonable person would interpret as leading to the injury,” it states.
It also notes that the apartment complex manager failed to properly maintain a safe environment.
Cheston won’t likely receive the full settlement — but the verdict sends a powerful message, Stewart said on Twitter.
“Want to know what a victim of rape is worth? 1 billion. Record 12 person jury verdict. Juries are saying no to sexual assault and holding companies accountable!” he wrote.
Cheston and Stewart couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Friday.
A rep for the security firm didn’t immediately return a request for comment.