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Judge sentences 21-year-old to life in prison for murders of YouthQuest counselors

Program for at-risk young adults operated in Lake Ridge apartments

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Ronald Francis Dorsey

Ronald Francis Dorsey

A 21-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison for the 2016 murders of two youth-support counselors at his independent living program in Lake Ridge, a Prince William Circuit Court judge ruled Friday.

At a sentencing hearing Friday afternoon, Judge Tracy Hudson sentenced Ronald Francis Dorsey to two consecutive life sentences for the murders of Lizeth Lopez, 36, and Erica Hickson, 37.

The women were counselors at YouthQuest, an independent-living program for at-risk young adults transitioning out of foster care and juvenile-justice system. It was housed in the Dominion Middle Ridge apartment complex on Creekview Circle in Lake Ridge but shuttered shortly after the Dorsey was arrested for the murders in August 2016.

The women were killed about three months apart. Dorsey was a 19-year-old resident of one of the YouthQuest apartments at the time, authorities said. 

Dorsey pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in July 2017. His sentencing hearing was once delayed so a forensic psychologist could prepare a report in the case.

At the Dec. 14 hearing, two family members of the victims -- Lopez’s mother and Hickson’s son -- gave emotional testimony about the impact their loved ones’ deaths have had on their families.

“I’m unable to accept still the absence of my daughter,” Lopez’s mother, Gladys Lopez said, testifying through a Spanish-language interpreter. 

Lopez read a written statement to the judge, the paper in her hands visibly shaking at times as she spoke.

“She was the best sister, aunt, friend and person,” Lopez said of her daughter. “She was always wanting to help and in doing that, she lost her life.”

“She had dreams of her own, of having her own home, children, a family, and none of that came about because of the hands of a murderer. All of her hopes have been truncated,” Lopez said.

Nathaniel Hickson, Erica Hickson’s son, said his mother’s death, which happened during his senior year of high school, has affected him “in the worst way.”

“I feel like my life is over,” the now 20-year-old said. “She was all I had.”

Hickson’s voice broke with emotion as he described as how his mother taught him how to dunk a basketball, always attended his basketball game, and always made time for him and his friends. She took the time to bake a birthday cake for one of his friends who at 16 had never had one.

“She was just a great mom,” he said. “A single mom, three jobs, and she still had time for me.”

Hickson said he’s struggled with losing his mom so suddenly.

“She’s gone just like that and I had no goodbye or anything,” he said. “I can’t say, ‘Hey, Mom, this is what I’m up to… all I can do is see her picture… and now she’s gone.”

Women’s bodies found outside apartments

Family members reported Lopez missing on April 19, 2016, after she didn’t show up to pick up her niece in Alexandria. Her car was still in the YouthQuest parking lot and police questioned all of the program’s employees and residents, including Dorsey, who denied any knowledge of her whereabouts.

Lopez’s body was found in a creek bed near a drainage ditch a few hundred yards from the YouthQuest office 10 days later.

Police were still investigating Lopez’s disappearance three months later, when Hickson was reported missing on Aug. 5, 2016. Like Lopez, Hickson was working at YouthQuest when she disappeared. Hickson’s remains were founds yards away from Dorsey’s residence around 1 p.m. on Aug. 5, 2016. Dorsey was again questioned by investigators and eventually admitted to murdering the two women. He told police that he had “inappropriate urges” to abduct and rape women. Prosecutors said he intended to rape both women but did not. Prosecutors said Dorsey previously attempted to abduct and rape another woman when he was about 12 years old.

Defense: Dorsey 10 when he entered foster care

For the defense, forensic psychologist Dr. Lisa Doll testified about Dorsey’s traumatic childhood and the impact that had on his life. Dorsey never formed strong attachments with adults as a young child, was abandoned by his mother, was abused by his father and eventually entered foster care at the age of 10, Doll testified. 

Richard Dukes, who was Dorsey’s foster father for a short time when Dorsey was about 11, testified that he was a happy child when he was with their family. But that placement was short-lived, as Dorsey was moved to a relative’s home after less than a year in the Dukes’ home.

Dukes said he and his wife lost contact with Dorsey over the years but saw his photo in the newspaper when he was arrested for the murders. 

Dukes said he was shocked, but soon arranged to visit Dorsey in jail.

“I’m here to support Ron regardless,” Dukes said. “My heart goes out the families.”

Defense attorney Joseph Thelin asked the judge to impose a sentence that would allow Dorsey to leave prison one day.

“What we’re asking for is a chance,” Thelin said. “He’s a kid who hasn’t had a chance… he didn’t have a chance since he was born.”

Thelin also said that Dorsey has expressed remorse for his actions.

“This is not someone who is without remorse, this is not someone who has an inherently evil mind. This is someone who has problems,” Thelin said.

But Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Conway said that was a chance the community could not take, noting Dorsey told police he thought his urges would lead him to commit another similar crime in the future

“You can’t take a chance and give an opportunity to a multiple murderer who has admitted that he could do it again,” Conway said. 

Before he was sentenced, Dorsey spoke briefly, apologizing to the Lopez and Hickson families.

Hudson said he was exceeding the sentence recommended by Virginia’s voluntary sentencing guidelines, in part because of the steps Dorsey took to conceal his role in Lopez’s murder and because of the likelihood that Dorsey would commit a similar crime in the future.

“It’s a very sad case all around,” Hudson said. “But one of my primary duties is to protect the public.”

Reach Amanda Heincer at aheincer@fauquier.com

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