How a woman tried and failed to hold her alleged rapist accountable at trial

August 21, 2016Samantha fell asleep on her stomach in a hotel room bed in Austin when, she said, she woke up to the pain of being raped.

She opened her eyes and saw the man she had met the night before passed out next to her. When she got up and turned around, she said, she saw another man standing behind her, completely naked, holding his penis. He would have bowed and run into the bathroom. Cried Samantha.

A few minutes later, she did what few victims do immediately after being sexually assaulted: she reported it to the police.

“I came home with this guy, and his roommate literally just slept with me while I slept in the bed next to him,” said Samantha, then 25, crying hysterically, according to one 911 call recording. “It just happened. I just woke up.”

In the hours and months that followed, Samantha did everything she could to hold the man accountable. After leaving the hotel, she went directly to a sexual assault clinic where nurses dabbed and scratched her body for evidence. Two weeks later, she delivered a new statement to the police. Then, last November, she testified at her criminal trial.

Prosecutors believed it and they believed in the case. After all, they had surprised the accused in a lie: he first denied having sex with her, but DNA tests showed that he did. At trial, he described a completely different sexual encounter from what Samantha had reported and said it was consensual.

After hearing all of the testimony and testimony, a jury acquitted him.

Three jurors told BuzzFeed News about the closed door deliberations where the case fell apart. They didn’t think Samantha was lying, but the jurors still had doubts that led them to a verdict of not guilty. Their testimony shows that even if men like Harvey Weinstein begin to be held accountable in the #MeToo era, in a rare case of rape being tried, the belief that women are not necessarily enough for the criminal justice system.

“Has justice been done?” asked a juror. “Probably not.”

The night before when she said she was raped, Samantha, who asked to be identified by her first name only to protect her privacy, went out for a drink with a friend. As the last call drew near, they were drinking tequila at the bar when three men approached them. Two started talking to her friend, while the third started a conversation with Samantha. They immediately hit him.

She learned that he was in town to celebrate his birthday with a few friends. After taking a few more shots, she agreed to return to her hotel and spend the night with him.

From there, things got confused. Samantha said that she did not remember leaving the bar and that she only remembered being in the hotel car. A photo she posted on her Snapchat showed her and the birthday boy huddling in the elevator with one of her friends, the man she later identified as her rapist in the background.

She was not 100% sure if she and the guy she was in bed with had sex, but she is adamant: she remembers very clearly what happened when she woke up around 8:40 a.m.

“I felt like I was having sex and I always woke up,” Samantha told a detective later in the day, according to an audio recording of the interview. “I was fair, like, a little confused because I was, like, wait, what?” Who is making love with me? It’s not good. “

She said she turned around in time to see her friend jump off of her and run into the bathroom, the tape reported.

“Has justice been done?” Probably not.”

The man Samantha met with and another friend who was in the room told the police that they woke up with Samantha shouting that she had been raped, but they did not see the alleged assault happen.

The accused, whom BuzzFeed News does not name because he was acquitted, declined to comment on the story through a lawyer.

He told police this morning that he had just gotten out of the shower when he heard “a lot of commotion”, saying that at first Samantha seemed “confused” about “who was above she “before pointing fingers, according to an audio recording of her interview with a detective.

While the other two men in the room also said that Samantha did not know who had just raped her before the accused appeared, she told BuzzFeed News that she had always “known that anyone who raped me was running in the streets. bathroom”.

She told police that the accused had yelled at her, called her crazy, and tried to kick her out of the room. After saying repeatedly that she should call the police, he replied, “call them,” then dialed 911 on her phone and threw it on her, according to Samantha.

The police asked the accused if he had ever put his penis in her and if there was a reason why they would find his DNA in her vagina. He said no, several times.

“I don’t see how you would find [my] DNA in [her] vagina unless this girl rides on me and rides me when I sleep – I would know, “he said. “My DNA should definitely not be inside this girl.”

But, at trial, after DNA tests showed the accused’s sperm in her, he said that he had had consensual sex with Samantha, but not at the time or in the way she did. described. He said he lied because he, a black man, was afraid to tell the truth to the police, prosecutors and jurors recall.

Travis County Deputy District Attorney Andrew Rountree told BuzzFeed News that he had tried to show the flaws in the defendant’s story, noting that no one had seen his version of the meeting or even that Samantha and had interacted with him in a romantic way. Rountree also asked him about the details of the consensual sex he described, such as the position they were in and if they said anything to each other, but he had no answers.

Travis County District Attorney

“He did not remember any of these details,” he said.

In addition to the DNA evidence, prosecutors presented the jury with a 911 call, the sexual assault review report, the statements provided to the police, and the testimony of Samantha, the other two men in the room, and d ‘other.

Counsel for the accused declined to comment on the story, but a partial transcript of the trial showed that the defense raised questions about Samantha’s credibility by focusing on her confusion about what happened after that she left the bar and her history of trauma.

“It was very clear that she was an emotionally disturbed woman,” said William Lee Carter, an expert psychologist who testified for the defense after examining the evidence and seeing Samantha’s testimony.

Another witness also mentioned that Samantha had previously reported having PTSD, but prosecutors said the information was not supposed to be presented during the trial and the jurors were not informed of the event that sparked the trouble.

However, the testimony about her mental health and the lack of clarity about the incident raised questions for the jurors who came to doubt the accuracy of Samantha’s story.

“It’s not that we didn’t believe it,” said a juror. “In fact, I would say that the most ardent of the not guilty [ jurors] believed a lot [and] understood his story, but they still had doubts. “

The jurors, who asked anonymity because they did not want their names associated with the case, said they did not doubt that Samantha had experienced something traumatic that morning. But because of her history of PTSD and because she had been drinking and couldn’t remember much of what had happened before falling asleep, they wondered if she was unknowingly planning a previous trauma on the situation.

“All of these things really painted a gray cloud,” he said.

As for evidence, juries generally have “unreasonably high expectations” as to what information should be available to corroborate the story of a victim, said Camille Cooper, Rape vice president of public policy, Abuse & Incest National Network.

“They call it the CSI effect. They want every case to have a quick fix, ”Cooper told BuzzFeed News. “The juries want to be 100% sure, and they want to see a lot of the things they saw on TV, and you know, most of the time, that just doesn’t exist.”

“It looks like she did everything right, and it looks like this particular jury failed her.”

Cooper said the testimony of the two men who told the police that they woke up screaming that she had been raped corroborates Samantha’s story and that the jury should have given more weight to the fact that the the accused had changed his story.

“It looks like she did everything right, and it looks like this particular jury failed her,” said Cooper.

But the lack of certainty from friends of the accused as to what exactly happened that night also confused jurors. Although one of them told the police that he and Samantha had sex, he said in court that he did not remember if they did. The other man testified that he heard what he believed to be sex between Samantha and his friend while the accused slept next to him in the other bed, but he did not know what time to overnight it had happened, prosecutors said.

Although neither of the two ever said that they saw Samantha and the accused together, the jurors did not think that was enough to conclude that her story of consensual sex was a lie. Without a precise timetable or understanding of what had happened in the wee hours of the morning, the jurors felt that they could not say with certainty that Samantha had not consented to have sex with the accused.

“If no one remembers what happened, then the question of consent becomes even more vague,” said a juror. “If she doesn’t remember anything about that night, then she doesn’t know what she did or didn’t say, who she was fine with, [and] who she was not. “

There were other details that did not add up in their minds. For example, they did not think it was logical for the accused to give the victim his phone to report the incident if he did what she said she did. And how the other men in the room, one who testified that he woke up with his arm wrapped around Samantha’s body and the other friend, who testified that he was sleeping lightly, did not awakened by the alleged assault, the jurors wondered.

Another problem some jurors had was that a summary of the incident written by the nurse who conducted the sexual assault examination said that Samantha had said “it feels good” regarding her recognition of the feeling of having sex on waking – a divergence in her story difficult to grasp. Samantha told BuzzFeed News that she did not think she said that and that the note was a mistake.

“Did she dream of something that had already happened, or was it really happening when she said?” another juror said.

At the end of the day, the jury found that there was a reasonable doubt and that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the rape had taken place even if, as one juror said, more people believed Samantha’s story in relation to what the accused said.

“No one was 100% sure what happened in this room, and we wish there was a camera. We wish there was something, but we can’t – no one can be 100% sure and no one is happy with the result, “said a juror.

For Samantha, the verdict was devastating.

After returning home after the trial, Samantha, who now lives outside the United States, faced nightmares and attempted suicide several times.

“I have to try to fall asleep every night and tell myself if he starts again, it’s not my fault. It’s not in my hands – it’s what everyone is telling me, ”she told BuzzFeed News. “It’s in the hands of the jury, but it doesn’t seem to me like that in my heart.”

She said she was still struggling with how the jury could say they believed her – and not convict the accused.

“I have the impression that this jury would not have been happy if it were not standing in the room and that they had witnessed it,” she said. “When are we going to finally say enough and hold people accountable?”

Travis County District Attorney

The idea that they could potentially put an innocent person in prison weighed heavily on the jurors in this case. This is partly why none of them wanted their names published in this story.

“It is either an innocent person who goes to jail or a victim who does not receive justice,” a juror told BuzzFeed News. “The two are ruining someone’s life.”

If it was a civil case, where the guilt bar was much lower, the juror said the result could have been different.

“I think this bar was easily wiped out,” he said.

But the odds in criminal sexual assault cases are inherently against the victims. Most rapes go unreported and those rarely tried – less than 2% according to a recent study from six jurisdictions.

“This case simply highlights how difficult these cases can be, even with very convincing evidence.”

Prosecutors have the burden of proving that a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, and in some cases the only evidence available is the word of the victim, often contradicted by the accused.

Even in cases like Samantha’s, where there is DNA evidence, it is still difficult for juries to make a decision because that evidence only corroborates that the sex took place – not if it was consensual or no.

“This case simply highlights how difficult these cases can be, even with very convincing evidence,” said prosecutor Rountree. “And it’s a challenge that we accept and accept, but it’s still a challenge.”

Jim Hopper, independent consultant and associate teacher at Harvard Medical School who specializes in psychological trauma, said that juries in many cases do not have enough information to know what constitutes a reasonable doubt or not . More must also be done to educate the public about the effects of trauma and sexual assault on memory and the brain, he said.

“For all the experiences, we don’t remember everything that happened. We remember what struck us and, over time, we tend to remember most of what happened, ”he said. “We have to expect and not be surprised if people have missing parts and even have inaccuracies on certain things that were not central details for them – that’s true of all the memories.”

And Hopper said that despite what jurors feared, past trauma generally does not make the memories of victims less reliable than those of others.

“The things that got the attention and their importance, they tend to be accurate over time. They tend not to fade and get lost, ”he said.

In her testimony, Samantha said that she was never asked about her PTSD, which she said was triggered by a street attack in Uganda while volunteering for the Peace Corps in 2014, or had the opportunity to explain how it affected his life.

“Just because I have PTSD doesn’t mean I haven’t been assaulted. That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand what’s going on around me, ”she said. “I have nightmares, but I know the difference between a nightmare and waking up from a nightmare and waking up before being attacked.”

While none of the three jurors who spoke to BuzzFeed News said they regretted their decision, two of them expressed doubts about the justice done in this case.

“My gut says the guy is guilty, but the evidence and everything doesn’t,” said a juror.

Another juror said that this experience showed him the difference between finding a person not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and believing that he is innocent.

“Without it being clearer than it was, how do you condemn someone?” But were they really innocent? This is something we cannot say, “she said.

Despite the outcome of the trial, Samantha still believes that she made the right decision to come forward. At the end of the trial, she was heartbroken and wished never to have returned to Austin to testify.

But now she finds peace knowing that she has done everything she could – even if that was not enough to influence a jury.

“I don’t think they made the right decision, but I think I did,” she said. “At least I tried. I tried to do my part to make the world a little bit safer. »●

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