By JONATHON MYERS
A student’s murderer gets a trial date. Former University of Mary Washington student Steven Vander Briel will begin his trial May 2 for the first-degree murder of fellow UMW student Grace Mann.
On April 17, 2015, Mann was found unresponsive in her off-campus home on Washington Avenue that she shared with Briel and two other housemates. Despite attempts at resuscitation, Mann was pronounced dead upon arrival at Mary Washington Hospital shortly thereafter.
Briel, age 30, first enrolled at UMW in 2002. After on-again, off-again enrollment periods, Briel was finally on track to graduate in Spring 2015. Testimonies from those that knew him described Briel as “non-threatening” and “friendly,” his indictment in the case coming as a shock to many, according to a previous report in The Free Lance-Star. A former member of the rugby team, Briel earned the nickname “Care Bear” and was viewed as more sensitive than the other members of the team. His former teammates never reported any signs of mental illness, drug addiction or violent behavior, according to The Free Lance-Star.
After a brief stint in Seattle, Briel returned to Fredericksburg to finish his degree; renting a room with Mann and two others in their Washington Avenue home.
Mann, openly gay and an active member of UMW PRISM, was attending a “Day of Silence” event for the victims of bullying targeted at sexual minorities on April 17, according to a report in the Washington Post, before she returned home to find Briel there alone. Shortly afterward, one of the other two housemates received a text message from Briel about making a “mess” in one of the rooms. When the two housemates returned home, they found Briel soaked in sweat and behaving strangely.
He cryptically asked them what they would do if Mann never came back, and described an altercation in which Mann allegedly “lunged” at him and bit him, causing him to “defend himself.” In his description he openly admitted to strangling her, according to The Free Lance- Star.
Mann was found with her hands bound with a belt and a sweater, with two plastic bags in her mouth and another over her head. One of the housemates began CPR immediately. By the time police arrived 10 minutes later, Briel had already left. He was later apprehended on Fall Hill Avenue.
The beginnings of an insanity defense are already being formulated by Briel’s attorneys, with the proper paperwork having already been submitted. After pleading not guilty for all of his charges, the defense will have to prove Briel’s insanity at the time of the incident in order. Briel’s attorney, along with an expert assigned to evaluate Briel, are both of the opinion that Briel was insane at the time, but further details have yet to be released, according to The Free Lance-Star. Briel’s trial will take place over the course of three days from May 2 through May 4, beginning at 10 a.m. the first day. He is currently being held in Rappahannock Regional Jail where he will await his trial, according to The Free Lance-Star.
A beloved member of the community, Mann’s funeral in Falls Church drew in over 1,100 people, including students and faculty in attendance at a campus vigil in her honor, according to The Free Lance-Star.
Concerns have been raised over previous threats made against other members of Feminists United other than Mann, with many stating that they feel “unsafe” on campus. Rumors even began to spread that the incident with Mann was an extension of deeper anti-feminist sentiment at UMW.
President Hurley has stated previously that there is no evidence to support that the threats over social media had any relevance to Mann’s death, according to a letter sent by the president on June 8 to the Feminists Majority Foundation.