Jordan Johnson may have been the one on trial, but closing arguments in his case Friday focused on the woman who said he raped her last year.
A seven-woman, five-man Missoula County District Court jury later acquitted Johnson of sexual intercourse without consent.
During his closing argument, defense attorney David Paoli spoke of reasonable doubt – not the doubt afforded any defendant in a criminal case, but in this instance, to the woman who accused Johnson.
“This courtroom is full of doubt,” Paoli said. “Do you believe (the woman) beyond a reasonable doubt?”
Paoli repeatedly presented what he termed “fabrications” by the woman, calling her “vengeful” and “malicious.”
Assistant Attorney General Joel Thompson referred to such comments when he said the woman “has had to crawl through a proverbial tunnel of sewage to get here to tell her story.”
For victims of date rape, the process on display during the Johnson trial was more important than the jury’s decision, said Cindy Weese, of the YWCA Missoula. The trial illustrated what victims confront when they choose to report those crimes.
“It’s going to be a grueling process, and their life is going to be exposed to everyone,” said Weese, YWCA director. “… No matter the verdict, (the case) is going to have a chilling effect on victims of sexual assault.”
County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg said the case is just one example of an acquaintance rape allegation.
As to whether the verdict in this case would affect future prosecutions, “every case is unique,” he said. “You can’t make generalizations.”
The woman’s story involved a date that started with the two watching a movie in her bedroom, an encounter that moved quickly from kissing to making out to taking each other’s shirts off. Johnson stopped the first time she said no, but ignored later protests, the woman testified during the trial.
“This is a case of what rape really looks like,” Assistant Chief Deputy County Attorney Suzy Boylan said in her closing argument to jurors Friday, referencing statistics that the vast majority of rapes involve people who know each other. “It is a confusing betrayal of trust.”
All along, though, the defense maintained the woman was upset when, after consensual sex, Johnson got up immediately without any cuddling and didn’t talk to her other than to say, “Well, thanks,” when she drove him home.
In a courtroom packed with many supporters of Johnson, including Grizzlies football players and coaches, Paoli said that “this is not about Grizzlies football. It’s about what people do when they’re vengeful and they want to take it out on somebody.”
The woman and her family and friends also were in the courtroom during closing arguments. She sat stone-faced as, at one point, Paoli lay a life-size cardboard outline of a woman on the courtroom floor and climbed atop it, purporting to show the jury that the assault could not have happened the way she described.
Thompson derided the vengeance theory, telling jurors that if revenge were the woman’s motivation, she went about it exceedingly badly.
“She apparently knew that screaming and yelling wouldn’t be authentic,” he said, “... and she decided apparently that the best way to help her lie was to give him a ride home. What a great thing to do to further her malicious plot.”
Throughout the trial, the defense emphasized the fact that the woman did not cry for help during the alleged attack, despite the fact that one housemate was playing video games in the living room, and another was asleep in the apartment.
Indeed, said Paoli in his closing argument, “it’s common sense to talk about the fact that she didn’t scream, she didn’t roll off the bed.”
In order for a person to be convicted of sexual intercourse without consent, Montana law requires that the sex have been non-consensual and the defendant to know there was no consent. But resistance by the victim is not required.
Boylan maintained the case was “not about an insensitive lover who didn’t cuddle. It’s about a defendant who didn’t take no for an answer.”
Nor, she said, was the case – as the defense repeatedly characterized it – a matter of “he said-she said.”
“We don’t call anything else but sex offenses ‘he said-she said,’ ” Boylan said. “If a person was mugged in an alley, would we be skeptical?”
Likewise, she asked, would a victim of a property crime be dismissed because the door was left unlocked?
The YWCA’s Weese noted that the young woman who accused Johnson went through an excruciating experience in the preparation of the case. And the community witnessed it.
“It sends a message to all women. This is what you have to confront if you’re going to come forward,” Weese said following Friday afternoon’s verdict.