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Man pleads guilty to sexual assault of woman in Stafford vape shop
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Man pleads guilty to sexual assault of woman in Stafford vape shop

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A man who sexually assaulted a woman in 2019 at the North Stafford vape shop where he worked pleaded guilty to two charges Wednesday.

Charles Henry Austin III, 33, was convicted in Stafford Circuit Court of abduction with the intent to defile and using a firearm in the commission of a felony. As part of a plea agreement, several other charges were dropped.

Austin will still be facing the possibility of life in prison when he is sentenced June 28 by Judge Micheal Levy, though his recommended state sentencing guidelines will suggest a much shorter sentence.

According to the evidence presented by prosecutor Ed Lustig, the victim entered East Coast Vapors on Garrisonville Road the evening of Aug. 30, 2019. She talked to Austin, the only other person in the store, about vape products.

After asking the woman if anyone was waiting outside for her, Austin locked the front door and closed the curtains. He told the woman that he was about to close the shop and didn't want anyone else coming in.

A short time later, a man came to the door and was told by Austin that the shop was closed.

The woman told police that not long after the would-be customer left, Austin grabbed her from behind, lifted her out of her shoes, and pulled her into a back room. The woman scratched Austin and screamed, but he ended up on top of her on the floor.

He placed a gun to her head and shouted, "you don't want to [expletive] die, do you? Spread your legs and take off your pants."

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The woman agreed to stop screaming at that point and was able to talk Austin into not carrying the attack much further. She told him that he hadn't done anything very wrong yet and repeatedly told him she would not call the police if he stopped.

The woman later told police that she spent most of her 15 to 20 minutes in the store trying to talk Austin out of raping her.

After some time, Austin began to cry and said that his life was over because he had already gone too far. He then began to apologize to the woman and said he didn't know why he attacked her.

Court records state that the woman then told Austin to look into her eyes and promise that he would never do anything like that again. Meanwhile, she slowly slid from under him and began putting on her shoes.

Austin told the woman he would wait for the police to come get him. The woman, who saw that Austin was still holding the gun, again promised not to call the police.

The woman then left the store and, after talking to her mother and her best friend, called the Sheriff's Office. Deputy Jason Aubry went to the vape shop and moments later Austin pulled up and said "I'm the one you're looking for."

Austin told Aubry that he had attacked a woman and didn't know why. He told police that he'd thought about killing himself, but decided instead to turn himself in.

In a recorded statement, Austin corroborated much of the woman's story. He claimed to not remember much of what happened, then started crying and asking himself "why did I do that?" Asked why he was on top of the woman, court records state, Austin replied, "to sexually assault her I guess."

Austin has been in jail since his arrest that night.

Keith Epps: 540/374-5404

kepps@freelancestar.com

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