The Billings Outpost

Was there justice for anybody in rape trial?

Jordan Johnson, a handsome, personable football hero with a blown shot at the NFL, wept when he recalled telling his family he had been accused of rape.

The unidentified Jane Doe who leveled the charge cried on camera describing the pain she had suffered.

Defense lawyers hugged Johnson and bawled when the jury acquitted their client. Was there any justice in this saltwater swamp? Probably not. A general outbreak of blubbering left the question open.

Johnson, the heavily recruited University of Montana quarterback, was bounced from the team when he was charged with rape. The acquittal opened the door for an appeal to get his job back with the Grizzlies. He’s back on the team, competing with three other quarterbacks for the prize position.

After graduation, Johnson won’t find any love in the NFL. If he graduates and lands a job as a teacher, it’s apt to be in some urban war zone or Cow Flop, Idaho.

The young woman who accused him of rape won’t be able to escape as easily as Johnson. Her experience will howl in the caverns of her mind long after the community has forgotten.

There were only two witnesses to the alleged crime – Johnson and the young woman. Snuggling on a couch in her room, they watched a movie, then began to kiss.

She took off his shirt. He took off her shirt. The action heated toward its uncertain conclusion. He called it consensual sex. She said she was brutally forced after repeated pleas to stop.

The seven-woman, five-man jury took a shade over two hours to reach a “not guilty” verdict. That’s time enough to elect a foreman, read a list of the evidence and order lunch. An alternate juror who was not allowed in the jury room where the regulars ordered sandwiches, said, “The evidence just was not there.”

Those who followed the case through newspapers and television did not take nearly as long to make up their minds. Across Montana, in bars and coffee shops, kitchens and locker rooms, in casual conversation and passionate on-line debate, most sided with their own gender, though some men thundered “NO MEANS NO! He (Johnson) should do time.”

Their mamas taught them well.

Defense attorney David Paoli had pleaded with the jurors to “release his client from the isolation, release him from this cloud, release him from this malicious, horrible allegation.”

Courtroom give and take dislodged bits and pieces of a much larger problem. A scattering of sexual assaults, followed by a gang rape of a coed by four Grizzly football players, triggered federal investigations of the football program and the university.

Connie Brueckner, lead detective in the Johnson-Doe case, mentioned a new policy drafted by the chief of police “as a result of these events.”

The policy reads, in part, “every sex crime investigation is to be initiated with the belief it is true until evidence demonstrates otherwise.”

This item was intended to deflect criticism of the department for frequent delays in investigations of sex crimes – sometimes as long as nine months, sometimes forever.

Defense attorney Paoli quoted the manual’s directive to investigate crime without regard to social or political issues, then asked: “But wasn’t the chief of police responding to social and political issues?”

UM president Royce Engstrom sacked Both Coach Pflugrad and UM Athletic Director Jim O’Day in March. He gave no reason other than that he sought change. In May, both the U.S. Department of Justice and of Education announced investigations of how UM handles sexual assaults; more recently, the NCAA revealed it has been investigating UM’s football team since January. In Missoula, nothing is more political than Grizzly football.

Finally, there’s the tale of two juries. Remember the District Court jury that broke camp after reaching a not-guilty verdict in two hours?

A May 23 panel of UM officials months earlier voted unanimously in favor of expelling Johnson. The expulsion was blocked, presumably by President Engstrum on advice of the university‘s lawyers. The university was dodging bullets.

The courtroom drama closed in a general outbreak of blubbering. Was there any justice in that saltwater swamp? Probably not. Justice is not a quality well served in rape cases.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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