Settlement Announced in Des Moines 2014 Embassy Suites Hotel Guest Rape Case
Victim to advocate for lodging industry security reforms to better protect travelers
DES MOINES, IOWA (Feb. 18, 2019) – After nearly five years of intense litigation, and just before the start of the eighth day of trial, the guest-rape case of a former sales executive, who on April 11, 2014 was attacked in her double-locked Des Moines Embassy Suites Hotel room, has been settled, according to attorneys for the plaintiff.
Cheri F. Marchionda, the plaintiff-victim in the case (U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa, 4:15-CV-479-JEG-SBJ, Marchionda v. John Q. Hammons Hotels Management, LLC and Atrium TRS III, LP), said that she deeply appreciated the service of the jurors, the Court, and her lawyers. “My life can never go back to what it was, but I intend to work on behalf of others – especially women travelers – to help protect them from harm, and to better assure guest safety and security in all forms of lodging. My life was shattered, but I am determined to do what I can to spare others the dread and horror I’ve experienced.”
“Cheri Marchionda is an incredibly courageous individual. She was not only the victim of an outrageously violent attack by admitted rapist Christopher LaPointe, but she has to live with the consequences of his brutality every day of her life,” said her attorneys Peter M. Villari and Paul D. Brandes of Villari, Brandes & Giannone, P.C., and Michael A. Hanamirian, of The Hanamirian Firm, P.C.. Their Philadelphia-area firms jointly represented Ms. Marchionda. They said, “While this settlement (monetary terms are confidential) was reached before she would testify, the jury learned through numerous witnesses what happened and details of how Cheri’s life was irrevocably and horrifically changed.” They added, “Cheri is protected by her faith, supported by her family and will be a courageous advocate for guest safety in the hotel industry.”
Ms. Marchionda’s Complaint asserted that defendants John Q. Hammons Hotels Management, LLC, of Missouri (the hotel management company), and Atrium TRS III, LP, of Delaware (the hotel owner/operator), failed in their duty to protect her from harm by another guest, Christopher LaPointe, by hotel staff giving LaPointe a key to her room upon his request, claiming it was his room, without checking his identification and confirming whether he had a right to the key. He did not. According to LaPointe’s sworn testimony at his 2014 plea and sentencing hearing, when he went to use the key to Ms. Marchionda’s door, the door would not open. He then requested help from the front desk, which sent a maintenance worker to the room. That worker then disengaged the lock and allowed LaPointe to enter the room. According to the maintenance worker’s testimony, the security bar latch was in place, preventing the door from opening more than a few inches. It was this lock the employee disengaged, thinking it was LaPointe’s room. Under oath, LaPointe pled guilty in December 2014, and was sentenced to 20 years in state prison for the brutal attack and burglary.
At the trial, Professor Ann Wolbert-Burgess, Ph.D., a leading authority on rape and rape trauma from Boston College, testified that even today only four out of 10 rape victims come forward. Dr. Burgess testified that Ms. Marchionda suffered, and continues to experience, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the attack and will likely require medical attention for the condition for the rest of her life.
After the settlement was reached, Mr. Villari stated, “We believe the hotel failed Ms. Marchionda, and that the industry at every level – from corporate headquarters down to the hotels themselves - must do a better job to protect guest-room keys and guest- room access in order to prevent harm to guests. Nothing is more important than guest safety.”
Norman Bates, the plaintiff’s expert witness on hotel security practices, testified that while the hotel had a proper key-control policy in place to prevent such tragedies, the involved hotel employees did not follow it. In that regard, those hotel employees admitted at trial that the hotel’s key-control policy was violated. Defendant Atrium denied any wrongdoing on its part.
In April 2014, Ms. Marchionda traveled extensively as a sales executive for one of the world’s largest frozen food manufacturers. A single mother of three (including two daughters), she was living her dream of working in the food business after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in one of the highly regarded hospitality management programs in Pennsylvania.
Raised in a small town in Western Pennsylvania, she excelled in progressively responsible supervisory positions, before joining the company as a regional food service manager in 2001. As a widely acclaimed sales leader in the convenience store segment, she was consistently recognized for outstanding performance and her leadership. At the time of her attack, she was a director of sales for convenience, and the first woman in the company’s history promoted to the Director level. A dedicated professional, Ms. Marchionda was also active in trade groups including the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and the Women’s Food Service Forum (WFF). She focused on promoting women in the traditionally male-dominated field. Mr. Villari stated, “Sadly, despite fighting valiantly for over four years to maintain her work responsibilities, due to the severe ongoing effects of the trauma, Cheri – with the support of her doctors - had to go on disability. She is fighting to overcome this horrible incident and looks forward to one day re-entering the business world.”