Missoula rape trial serves as lesson, civic engagement for crowd

2013-02-16T11:55:00Z 2014-10-03T14:28:03Z Missoula rape trial serves as lesson, civic engagement for crowd missoulian.com

The trial of former University of Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson has attracted a room full of spectators all week long.

“It’s a big spectacle. I’ve not seen this many people at a trial consistently,” Brian Smith, a public defender, said Friday.

The trial began Friday, Feb. 8, with jury selection; it resumes Wednesday, Feb. 20, and could run a couple of more weeks. The courtroom has public seating for more than 120 people, and has been mostly full since testimony began.

Among those spending long hours in the Missoula County Courthouse, watching the proceedings, are lawyers, law students, UM football players, police officers, the media and interested members of the public.

Smith, practicing law since 1997, said at least a third of the room has been filled with lawyers. Watching such a trial unfold is a learning experience even for a seasoned attorney because a professional gets ideas about how expert witnesses behave on the witness stand, a particular judge’s expectations and how other lawyers handle their own cases.

“There’s just no one right way to do it. Theft is the highest form of flattery when you’re presenting an idea,” Smith said.

On Thursday, a national expert in victim trauma and sexual assault testified. Smith said if the state brings that witness back in another case, a defender who has seen the expert on the stand is years ahead of the game.

The witness examination is punctuated by many objections, and at times, the judge has even talked with a witness herself to determine whether to allow a particular line of questioning. And Smith said watching the judge’s direction to the lawyers is instructive.

“Actually, I thought the attorneys in this case are walking a fine line,” Smith said. “I’ve been in front of Judge (Karen) Townsend quite a bit, and it’s an interesting dynamic.”


Jacob Allington is one of many aspiring lawyers spending time in the courtroom. He studied economics and philosophy and is a first-year law student at the University of Montana.

“This is the first real live trial I’ve seen,” Allington said during a recess Friday. “It’s interesting to see the adversarial system at work. It’s much different than what you see on TV.”

Allington said he is especially interested in this case because it may influence state statutes. Montana has a statute on sexual assault and another on rape – “sexual intercourse without consent” – and Allington said the statutes are not well-integrated.

One statute defines sexual assault, a charge that’s an easier hurdle for a prosecution to prove. The statute about sexual intercourse without consent – the charge in this case – requires the use of force, he said, and it doesn’t require the victim to resist.

He said the case could lead to changes in the way the law defines “without consent.”


The courtroom also has spectators who see their presence as a kind of civic engagement. Toni Lozeau is retired, and some of her friends wonder why she’s spending her free time at the County Courthouse.

She’s a season ticket holder for the football games, and she’s been a single mom all her adult life, and those interests have led her to watch the case progress with her own eyes.

“I just knew this was going to be a high-profile case,” Lozeau said.

She would not want to be on the jury because of the hard decision jurors will have to make, but she wanted to be a part of the process.

Lozeau believes it’s important to be informed about the event as a member of the community, and she wants to hear the witnesses firsthand.

“I think this is a very important case to listen to,” she said.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. Montana DAD
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    Montana DAD - February 20, 2013 2:02 pm
    This is one of many examples of what happens when evidentiary standards have been lowered...

  2. Tracker
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    Tracker - February 18, 2013 7:18 pm
    Thanks fancyfree. Simpletons expose themselves by saying something begs the question, as if it means it raises the question. Why do they always seem to be calling someone else stupid when they do it?
  3. in the pines
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    in the pines - February 18, 2013 9:17 am
    it's called jury nullification & IMHO jurors should be informed of this right, this ability, they have.
  4. CodyFromCowboyCountry
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    CodyFromCowboyCountry - February 18, 2013 7:40 am
    Being raped in your bedroom by someone you know is as violent a crime as a rape by a stranger in an alley. The law does not distinguish between these two types of sexual assaults. As for the person found guilty of a rape and having his life ruined: if found guilty his life was ruined by what he did to another person. Being accused and later being found guilty did not ruin his life. Only he is responsible for that.

    Even you, Hellgatenights, are part of the process. People talking about this trial are finally talking about what only a short time ago in some of our lifetimes, went unspoken.
  5. fancyfree
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    fancyfree - February 17, 2013 2:00 pm
    Hey hellgatenights, next time, before you go on a wide-sweepingly accusatory and pedantic tirade, please learn the proper use of the logical argument "beg the question"... Especially when it seems you are trying your hardest to make a logical argument.. though that may be about as possible as asking a dog to button up a pair of pants.

  6. Roger
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    Roger - February 17, 2013 1:09 pm
    Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe a judge can tell the jurors how to vote. If that's true - why even have a trial?
  7. Bittersweet
    Report Abuse
    Bittersweet - February 16, 2013 6:42 pm
    Say again?
  8. Objective observer
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    Objective observer - February 16, 2013 5:12 pm
    Congratulations on posting the uninformed comment of the day. The jury DOES have to follow a judge's instructions. If they don't, the jury verdict can be nullified by the judge or on appeal. Typical libertarian BS.
  9. libertarian
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    libertarian - February 16, 2013 3:06 pm
    Sitting on jury shouldn't be too hard. Juries can judge the law and fact and vote their conscience. The jury does not have to follow the judge's instruction's nor can the jury be punished for their verdict.
  10. DonaldM
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    DonaldM - February 16, 2013 1:16 pm
    I have a problem with Ms Francour, an obvious, self admitted, "activist" re assault on women issues, doing the forensic "rape" exam and testifying thereon. Then the followup texts, further demonstrating bias, plus the referral to a tort lawyer specializing in such issues.

    I'm curious as to the items on the program she was attending in San Francisco. There has to be a qualified Gynecologist in Missoula who can do a competent and objective exam of women claiming rape whose objectivity would not be in question. The system has to be fair to both the woman and the man.

    Adding in the "Assault on women" rally on the UM campus in the middle of the trial, not to mention Pat Williams' irresponsible comments re "thugs" in the Athletic dept. on the eve of the trial, the atmosphere of a "lynching" seems to be in the air.

    I know neither of the individuals involved and those who know me know that I have no relationship to the UM athletic dept. nor anyone within the programs; at one time I was even publicly declared to be "anti-athletic". I have never been "anti-athletic" nor am I a member of "Grizz-Nation. In fact, I have no memory of ever attending a Grizzly football game.

    I am interested in fairness and justice.

    The story of the young woman sounds horrific and I sincerely feel for her; the life of Jordan Johnson has been devastated and if convicted he will have to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life. This situation is horrible for each of them and their families..
  11. montanamuralist
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    montanamuralist - February 16, 2013 6:24 am
    I am not certain that attacking people who are retired and asking how they buy their groceries is the best tactic in being taken seriously here although some good points are made about Engstrom and the prosecution. Many of us who are retired have no problem buying groceries because the government had no problem taking Social Security out of our checks every week for our entire working careers. And we made money?????? And paid for our homes and property. And pay property taxes? Please give it a break attacking people who are just interested in observing something now that they are retired. I do agree to really understand this case you have to see the witnesses in person.
  12. ILoveMontana
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    ILoveMontana - February 16, 2013 3:51 am
    I agree with Ms Lozeau. It's better to get the information first hand and make your own decisions. Too many people have been tried and convicted by the media. Reporters should report the facts -- too often the reporter's personal opinions slip into the news article and then are accepted as fact by the reading public.
  13. hellgatenights
    Report Abuse
    hellgatenights - February 16, 2013 1:48 am
    This waste of paper is so stupid it begs the question........are there any reporters at the Missoulian?

    We have 1st yr law student gawking at this pathetic display of prosecutorial overplay and he's thinking "Golly gee, this is way better than Judge Judy?"

    Then we hear from the gawker single parent who somehow has time to sit in and watch the story of the girl who thinks she might have been raped? Said the single mom "She would not want to be on the jury because of the hard decision jurors will have to make, but she wanted to be a part of the process." ????? Huh? How are you part of the process sister?

    And how do you guy your groceries if you are sitting in the courtroom all day? Hmmmm

    No......this is not a good day for Missoula. The regents have not performed their due diligence in cleaning up the campus......starting with giving Engstrom the boot. Somewhere out there are persons who are violently attacking women, based on dozens of reports and who knows how many unreported cases. And we read here lies like the one chirped from Claire Francoeur, wherein she asserts that referring her patients to an Atlanta lawfirm is part of her therapy. No Claire.......it's not. And it's not on your website either.

    Every rock we turn over reveals some malice towards the UofM football team......and it all starts from stickboy Engstrom.
  14. Bittersweet
    Report Abuse
    Bittersweet - February 16, 2013 12:03 am
    Interesting perspective. Thanks for the article Keila.
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