Former Gophers player Jones acquitted of rape charge
April 11, 2008
By Rochelle Olson, Minneapolis Star Tribune
But he was convicted of the lesser charge of unwanted sexual contact. His attorney says he'll appeal, using evidence not admitted in this trial. He will be sentenced May 29.
Jones, 21, declined to comment after the decision, saying he wanted to catch up on his studies. Jones has missed school since jury selection began March 31. Although the star defensive back was kicked off the team when he was charged last July, Jones remained in school and is on track to graduate in the fall with a degree in sociology.
Jones had been charged with third-degree sexual assault for having sex with an 18-year-old woman who prosecutors said was too drunk to give consent. If he had been convicted of that charge, which involves penetration, he could have faced four years or more.
His conviction for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, which involves unwanted sexual contact, carries a presumed sentence of 24 months "stayed." That means he would not have to serve it unless he violated his probation.
Defense attorney Earl Gray said Jones could face a year in jail, but would likely get work release and be out sooner. He would have to register as a sex offender.
The jury's decision was clearly not the outcome sought by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's office, but Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Martha Holton Dimick gave it a good spin. She said Jones was convicted of a felony, she was "extremely pleased" and "a win for the defendant would have been an acquittal on all two counts and that didn't happen." She said prison is "still on the table."
Gray said he, Jones and Jones' family were "very happy" with the verdict. He dismissed the prosecution's claims of a win, saying that last fall Freeman's office rejected his offer to have his client plead guilty to fourth-degree sexual conduct.
Gray intends to appeal the verdict and seek a second trial. He said the evidence excluded at trial goes to the heart of the charge with which Jones was convicted.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Marilyn Rosenbaum did not allow Gray to call a sexual behavior expert, or to present evidence that the woman had sex with three other players that night, or describe what Jones was told by his upstairs neighbor Alex Daniels or to call a sexual behavior expert.
"The next time we try it, we will be able to give the jury a full picture of what happened that night," Gray said.
Jurors began deliberations late Wednesday and by mid-afternoon Thursday had acquitted Jones of the more serious charge, according to their verdict form. They reached a verdict at midday Friday on the lesser charge.
After the verdict was read, jurors were sent back to consider two more questions about aggravating factors. The jury quickly decided the act Jones performed was "humiliating and demeaning" to the woman, but not "cruel."
The star for the prosecution was a 30-second cell phone video recorded by Daniels. It shows Jones smiling and masturbating over the face of an impassive woman. At the end of the video, she had a white substance on her face. The time stamp on the video: 2:50 a.m. on April 4.
Juror's point of view
Juror Nevin Ozturk, who works at Medtronic, said the video was too short for conclusions. "I see commercials or parts of the movie, I can't claim I've seen the movie," she said.
Ozturk said a defining moment for her was DNA evidence, when a prosecution witness struggled to describe what was inside an evidence envelope he had signed.
Gray raised issues with the handling of evidence, including the nine condoms found in wastebaskets at the apartment. Several of the condoms were placed into one bag. The clothes of the victim also were placed together in a single bag.
Asked about Jones' own testimony, in which prosecutors exposed lies from his initial interview with police, Ozturk said there was "a lot of he said, she said" at the trial.
The incident last April started with former players Robert McField and E.J. Jones driving to St. Paul to pick up Laquisha Malone, a woman McField met on Facebook. Malone wanted her friend to come along so they went to the College of St. Catherine to pick her up.
They went back to the apartment McField and E.J. Jones shared with Alex Daniels and Keith Massey at University Village. Jones, who is not related to E.J. Jones, lived a floor below them.
The woman, who attended the trial only to testify, got into a vodka shot-drinking contest with McField. She said she remembered nothing of the evening beyond falling asleep on the couch and waking the next morning with a white substance on her face. She washed it off, went home and to work.
McField, who is now in prison in Missouri for armed robbery, said he walked into a dark bedroom and saw Jones appearing to have sexual intercourse with the woman. He said he then saw Jones pull off his condom and finish the act on her face. The video, however, showed no penetration and Jones' semen was not found on any of the used condoms in the apartment.
Jones said he did not have sex with the woman except to masturbate over her, which he testified was consensual.
No one else was charged in the case and only McField was called to testify.
Asked whether the other players -- E.J. Jones, Massey and Daniels -- might be charged, Holton Dimick said, "Let's take that one step at a time."