Archive for Thursday, September 2, 2004

Police work questioned in Baldwin rape case

September 2, 2004

A 29-year-old Lawrence man was found not guilty Friday of raping a woman in 2003 at her Baldwin apartment, ending a case one juror said was full of holes and lacking conclusive evidence.

"There was just a whole list of things," juror Leo Beier said. "There were too many holes that weren't filled.

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"We had a list of criteria we had to fill (for a conviction)," he said. "The evidence presented to us did not do that."

Beier said the investigation of the case, which was conducted by the Baldwin City Police Department, appeared to have been mishandled and was less than thorough.

"It was lacking," he said.

Baldwin Police Chief Mike McKenna disagreed.

"The investigation was not mishandled," he said.

"It's very unfortunate that the jury was led to believe through the trial that it was incompetence on the police department, because that is not the case," he said. "I can say without hesitation or reservation that I know we did everything on this case that should have been done."

On July 13, 2003, a 46-year-old Baldwin woman reported to police that the defendant and his 27-year-old brother raped her after she met them at a local bar and let them come back to her apartment.

The defendant acknowledged being in the apartment but said he and his brother left without incident.

There was no DNA evidence pointing to the defendant. Defense attorney Greg Robinson argued the defendant shouldn't have even been in court because of the lack of DNA evidence and the poor investigation.

Robinson couldn't be reached for comment, but throughout the trial, he continually cited what he called problems with the Baldwin police investigation, including not testing potentially useful pieces of fingernail evidence such as a hair found on the woman during the sexual exam or fingernail scrapings from under her fingernails.

He also said the police never challenged the woman's claim, instead choosing to console her and act more like "social workers" instead of investigators.

McKenna said that wasn't the case. Instead, he said, when he first interviewed the woman, she started crying.

"I told her, 'It's OK, we understand,'" he said. "So the defense attorney tactfully turns that around and asks if I have a degree in social work.

"If I ever lose my compassion for people, I hope somebody tells me it's time to get out of this business," he said. "I hope any law enforcement officer would show compassion for a woman who has been victimized."

The juror Beier said the jury also had problems with the lack of DNA evidence, as well as what he said were other problems and inconsistencies.

"Nothing provided us with any proof of physical injuries," the juror said. "There was no DNA to provide proof there was sexual intercourse. There was no DNA of the defendant found on any articles of the bed.

"There were a lot of signs that (the prosecuting attorneys) were handed a less than conclusive case that they had to try," he said.

Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney could not be reached for comment.

McKenna said there was enough solid evidence to take the case to court.

"Otherwise we would have not been able to get search warrants or arrest warrants and the case would not have been able to get past the preliminary hearing," he said. "The case had met all the acid test of credibility to be where it was last week."

Though there was no DNA evidence, McKenna said there was physical evidence.

"We had scratches on her nose, and there was swelling," he said. "We had tears to the inside of her mouth from force being applied by his hand. There were imprints of her teeth and bleeding on the inside of her cheek."

McKenna said the hair found on the woman and fingernail scrapings were not tested because the defendant had already admitted to spending time with the woman.

"What would it prove?" he said. "We know he was there. And she really didn't make a concerted effort to scratch him.

"The onset of the investigation is to place the person at the scene of the crime, and we successfully did that."

After a four-and-a-half-day trial, the jury of seven women and five men took less than three hours to deliberate before coming back with a not-guilty verdict.

Beier said the verdict didn't reflect whether the jury believed the woman had been raped.

"It reflected our inability to reach that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "The prosecution's case did not meet the criteria laid down by the law handed to us by the judge. We felt we made the right decision given what we had."

The defendant's brother is scheduled to stand trial for the alleged rape in October. The Signal does not identify people charged with sex crimes unless they've been convicted, nor does it identify victims of sex crimes.

McKenna said he stood by the department's investigation of the incident.

"I've investigated hundreds of rapes in my career. I was in charge of sex crimes for several years," he said. "I know what we did was correct and proper.

"I believe, given the same circumstances, I'd do the same thing today."

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