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Details emerge in 1st week of Jordan Johnson rape trial
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Details emerge in 1st week of Jordan Johnson rape trial

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The rape trial of Jordan Johnson resumes Wednesday in Missoula County District Court after Monday’s holiday and Judge Karen Townsend’s regular law and motions day on Tuesday.

Johnson is charged with sexual intercourse without consent in connection with a Feb. 4, 2012, incident with a fellow UM student as the two watched a movie at her home.

The trial began Friday, Feb. 8, with jury selection that continued into the following Monday, with opening statements that afternoon. Then, the prosecution began its case, calling as its first witness the woman who said Johnson raped her.

The prosecution will continue with its case this week; the defense is expected to start presenting witnesses at the end of the week.

Although much of the testimony focused on information included in previous court documents, several interesting pieces of information emerged during the trial’s first week.

• The private investigator. This person has not testified, but the woman said on the stand that within a week or two after the incident, a private investigator hired by defense attorney David Paoli came to her home and attempted to interview her roommates. Later, he went to her tiny high school in north-central Montana and spoke to her teachers, the woman said.

His visit to her home apparently occurred before the woman made a police report on March 21 about the incident with Johnson, and even before she successfully sought a restraining order against him – citing sexual assault as the reason – on March 9.

• A letter from the university. So far, this has come up only in defense attorney Kirsten Pabst’s opening statement, when she said that “by all accounts, life for Jordan (after the incident) was completely normal, at least for the next week,” until he got the letter. “He was in shock, surprised, scared. At 19, his young life changed that day,” said Pabst. The contents of the letter were not detailed.

• Report to a dean. The woman said that she had no contact with Johnson in the month or so after the incident, until one day she saw him walking near her college. She ran inside and told her dean, and said that she made her decision to report the incident to police at about the same time.

• The university court. Testimony from the woman’s high school boyfriend, Loy Bink, on Friday confirmed that UM has held its own court proceeding in the case.

When cross-examined Friday by Pabst, Bink said the woman had told him the incident left bruises on her chest. However, he said that he’d testified in university court about bruises on her arms.

Peggy Kuhr, UM vice president for integrated communications, said Tuesday that that university court proceeding took place in early May last year.

In a federal civil complaint filed against UM on behalf of an unnamed student accused of sexual assault, Paoli sought to halt UM court proceedings against his client.

The UM court hearing took place May 23, and the court committee voted unanimously in favor of expulsion, according to Paoli’s complaint – which was denied.

The burden of proof in university court proceedings is by “clear and convincing evidence” – a lower burden than the evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” required in criminal cases.

For a conviction on the charge of sexual intercourse without consent, Montana law requires the sex to have been nonconsensual, and for the defendant to have known there was no consent. Physical resistance is not required.

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Missoula County District Court Judge Karen Townsend has ordered news outlets not to name Johnson’s accuser or shoot photos or video of her or her family, an order that mirrors standard practice by news organizations in any sexual assault case. Nor are photos of jurors allowed.

In addition to the emergence of new information about the case, the courtroom atmosphere remains intense. Most days, the case has attracted a large crowd – including people with close relationships to the case.

Former UM athletic director Jim O’Day attends daily. His son, Brian O’Day, was among those testifying for the prosecution. From his seat in the spectator section, Jim O’Day also has heard repeated questions as to whether the woman who says Johnson raped her was happy – as some of her text messages seemed to indicate – that he and Grizzlies football coach Robin Pflugrad lost their jobs, apparently as a direct result of the Johnson case. The woman denied she derived any pleasure from the firings.

Mick Delaney, named to replaced Pflugrad as head coach, was in the courtroom one day, as was defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak, along with three Grizzlies players, on another day. The players were back in the courtroom on Friday. Gregorak said the idea was to show support for Johnson.

County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg has been in the courtroom as a spectator only, and then briefly.

On the other side of the rail, Assistant Chief Deputy County Attorney Suzy Boylan is joined by Assistant Attorney General Joel Thompson. He works for the Prosecution Services Bureau, which assists county attorneys with major cases.

Also, Adam Duerk, a private attorney in Missoula, is working pro bono on the case, as he has with at least one other high-profile criminal case in Missoula County.

On the defense side is David Paoli, a former Grizzlies player himself (as a nose tackle in the late 1970s and early 1980s). Paoli also is on the National Advisory Board for Grizzly Athletics.

Working with Paoli is Pabst, a former chief deputy Missoula County attorney once widely viewed as Van Valkenburg’s heir apparent. Pabst left that job last spring, well before the county attorney’s office received the results of the police investigation into the woman’s report against Johnson.

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or @CopsAndCourts.

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