Rape and Strangulation: Not Guilty After Trial
A jury acquitted a young man of First-Degree Sexual Assault (or Rape) and Domestic Strangulation in Rhode Island Superior Court. The man was criminally charged with these offenses following allegations by his ex-girlfriend that he had beaten, strangled and anally raped her in a remote wooded area. After five days of trial and two days of deliberations, the jury of twelve returned not guilty verdicts against the man.
The couple spent approximately six years together. They lived in the same apartment and had a daughter during this time. Eventually, they split up. The girl moved out and initiated a court battle over custody of their child. Due to the mother’s history with mental illness, alcoholism and drug abuse, the court awarded custody to the father. The mother was afforded limited, supervised visits each week. After a few months of living apart under these circumstances, the couple set out to reconcile and reunite their family.
At the end of their reconciliation week, the couple spent the night out attending an outdoor party. They drank to intoxication and the woman used drugs. Their daughter was babysat that night by her maternal grandmother. During the very early morning hours the next day, the couple had an altercation.
She claimed that they had an argument, which became physical when he knocked her to the ground, repeatedly punched her in the face and body, choked her to unconsciousness, and slammed her head on the tailgate of his pick-up truck. She further alleged that he ripped her clothing off and anally raped her. Once done, he allegedly threw her belongings onto the ground and sped off in his truck leaving her behind in a remote wooded area that was at least one mile from the nearest neighborhood.
After their encounter, she walked through the woods, without any socks or shoes, dressed solely in a t-shirt and shorts, to a stranger’s home. Bloodied, bruised and dirty, she pounded on the stranger’s door, screamed for help, and claimed to have been both beaten and raped by her daughter’s father and ex-boyfriend.
The girl received a ride home to her mother’s house from the concerned neighbor. Soon after her arrival, the man pulled up in his truck and demanded to take their daughter, who had spent the night with her grandmother. The girl argued with him about taking their daughter because it was her scheduled weekend visit. She threatened to call police if he did not leave.
He disregarded her threats, took custody of their daughter and returned home. His ex-girlfriend then followed through on her promise. She phoned 911, however, she only complained of him trespassing at her mother’s home and that he placed his hands on her earlier in the day. She failed to mention anything about sexual assault or strangulation.
As the hours passed, the girl visited police and reported the alleged rape, strangulation, and physical assault. Police documented her allegations with statements reports. Police also photographed her apparent injuries including a black eye and bruising to her face, neck, extremities and upper torso.
The girl then traveled with police to the location of the alleged attack. A day or two later, she visited the hospital for a sexual assault evidence collection examination. Police then obtained a warrant for her ex-boyfriend’s arrest. They also contacted him by phone and arranged for his self-surrender. The man surrendered to police as planned, and then waived his rights by providing a recorded statement and admitting the alleged crimes. He also gave police a sample of his DNA.
Based upon the foregoing, the man was indicted by a grand jury in Rhode Island Superior Court with First Degree Sexual Assault, Strangulation and Simple Assault.
The young man and his family retained Rhode Island Sexual Assault and Rhode Island Criminal Defense Lawyer, John L. Calcagni III, and Attorney Michael Lepizzera to defend him against these allegations. Following the man’s arrest and arraignment, the Court ordered him initially held without bail.
The man then appeared for a bail hearing, at which time Attorneys Calcagni and Lepizzera were afforded the chance, for the first time, to question and cross-examine his accuser. Attorney Calcagni, during questioning of the girl, established her mental health history, substance abuse problems, long-standing battle with alcoholism, loss of her daughter during a custody battle, inconsistent stories to police, healthcare providers, and others, and finally, threat to call police if the man interrupted her visitation weekend with their daughter.
Based on this information, combined with the man’s lack of criminal record, cooperation with police, and stable home environment for their daughter, the Court commented on the complaining witness’s credibility problems, which could affect the strength of the prosecution’s case at trial. Accordingly, the man was released on surety bail.
As the case progressed, the parties entered unofficial plea negotiations. Despite Attorney Calcagni’s best efforts to encourage prosecutors to either drop or reduce the charges against his client, he was unsuccessful. The State ultimately offered, in exchange for the man’s guilty plea, a sentence of 30 years in jail with 15 to serve and the balance of 15 to be suspended with probation. The man declined this offer. He maintained his innocence, and therefore, demanded his right to trial.
At trial, the Defense did not offer much substantive evidence. The State, however, presented the testimony of nine witnesses that included the complainant, two nurses, one DNA analyst, the civilian whose home was visited by the girl after the altercation, and four police officers.
The State also offered photos of both the location where the altercation occurred and the girl’s injuries, as well as medical records, out-of-court statements by the girl to police, medical providers, and from prior court proceedings. Lastly, the State offered videotape of the man’s confession to police where he admitted to assaulting and anally penetrating the girl against her will. At first blush, the State’s case and evidence against the man seemed impenetrable.
Attorney Calcagni essentially built his client’s defense on cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses. His theory was that the case was about an assault, not rape or strangulation, as alleged. He established that the physical evidence did not support the claimed sexual assault or strangulation. Photographs of the girl’s injuries were all consistent with being punched, slapped, kicked and knocked to the ground. While the girl had bruising on her neck, she conceded this injury was sustained when the man grabbed her head and slammed it on the tailgate of his pick-up.
As for the hospital records and sexual assault evidence collection exam, they revealed no signs of injury to the woman’s vagina or anus to include bruising, tearing or bleeding. All aspects of the girl’s intimate body parts, as observed by a sexual assault nurse examiner, appeared to be “within normal limits.”
Further, her account of the alleged sex assault involved kissing, digital penetration, penile penetration of her vagina, and penile penetration of her anus that concluded with ejaculation. Attorney Calcagni argued that this description by the girl, combined with no physical evidence of injury to her intimate parts, told a story of a consensual sexual encounter, opposed to the charged rape.
Attorney Calcagni also cross-examined police witnesses who provided the jury with evidence of inconsistent statements and conduct by the girl, which were not indicative of a sexual assault or strangulation. The Defense also offered, over the State’s objection, an audio recording of the girl’s initial 911 call. In it she told the 911 operator that her ex-boyfriend was trespassing at her mother’s house and that he had put his hands on her earlier in the day.
She failed to allege sexual assault or strangulation. Moreover, her demeanor and tone of voice on the recording was cool, calm, and collected. She did not exhibit signs of crying, hysteria or emotional upset, as described by the police witnesses who encountered her.
Attorney Calcagni cross-examined the State’s star witness, the alleged victim. Though she made allegations against her ex-boyfriend outside of court and before trial, once standing before the jury, she pretended to have lost all memory of the alleged rape and strangulation, as well as reporting these alleged events to police.
During trial, the girl also revealed that she was represented by an attorney, had declined to willingly participate in the trial, and felt forced, pressured and coerced by the prosecution to appear in court. Beforehand, she appeared at a pretrial hearing and attempted to invoke her 5th amendment privilege against self-incrimination to avoid testifying, but the Court disallowed the request. Once her ploy to avoid testifying failed, she took the stand and claimed to have no memory of the horrific allegations she previously wrote up and testified about on prior occasions.
Sex Crimes Attorney John L. Calcagni, III established her lies, addictions, and motive to fabricate. He also challenged the reliability of her past statements alleging sexual assault and strangulation on grounds of intoxication, mental illness, and coercion by government officials.
Lastly, Attorney Calcagni artfully dealt with his client’s confession to police. Initially, this video appeared to be the most damning piece of evidence. The video confession showed that his client was advised of his rights, waived them and then participated in a two-hour interview with detectives, that culminated his admissions of assaulting the ex-girlfriend and anally raping her. However, Attorney Calcagni taught the jury the art of interrogation, even over the State’s objection and Court’s disapproval.
The police art of interrogation employs the use of the lies, trickery, promises of leniency, and threats of harsh punishment to gain a confession. The process is less about ascertaining the truth, and more about obtaining statements from a suspect that comports with the beliefs of police that the individual is guilty. The man’s confession, in this case, had all these elements, many of which are known to psychologically coerce admissions, a point driven home during closing arguments.
After five days of jury selection, opening statements and the presentation of evidence, the case culminated with the parties’ closing statements. Attorney Calcagni reminded the jury of his theory that this was a case of assault, not sexual assault or strangulation.
He also argued powerfully that the State failed to meet its high burden of proving these crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. He asked the jury to convict his client of the committed assault, but not wrongfully or mistakenly of crimes he did not commit – rape and strangulation – which were founded upon lies, after lies and more lies by the complainant, to include in court while under oath. After two days of difficult deliberations, the jury rightfully sided with the Defense.
They adopted Attorney Calcagni’s theory of the case and find his client not guilty, as charged, of the serious felony offenses of First Degree Sexual Assault and Strangulation.