Jury is split in rape trial | AspenTimes.com

Jury is split in rape trial

Voting 10-2 in favor of acquittal, jurors returned deadlocked Tuesday in the sexual assault case of Ramon Dominguez-Jimenez.

The jury’s decision left the case in limbo, and prosecutors were unsure yesterday whether they would again put Dominguez-Jimenez on trial.

After deliberating for nearly 11 hours on Monday and Tuesday, each juror told Judge Leonard Plank that they didn’t think continuing deliberations any longer would help them agree on a verdict.

“I’d never want someone to go through what we just went through,” said juror Stephen Reiss after court let out. “This is going to bother us for the rest of our lives.”

Several jurors said they had difficulty sleeping during the past week, and that having no closure to the case was a troublesome conclusion to the trial.

Dominguez-Jimenez, 38, is still charged with sexually assaulting a 58-year-old co-worker last March.

Attorneys will meet back in Pitkin County District Court on Jan. 27 at 10:30 a.m. to set a trial date, although Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills said he needs time to consider whether to retry the case.

“This certainly doesn’t deter us. The jury is hung, but obviously there are some members of the jury that felt they strongly agreed with us,” Wills said.

He said he would wait a couple of days before making a decision about whether to continue prosecution of Dominguez-Jimenez, who has the right to a speedy trial within the next 90 days. Wills would not comment on the specifics of the trial since he said they “very well may retry the case.”

The alleged victim, a native of the Philippines, told the court last week that Dominguez-Jimenez forced her to have sex with him when he gave her a ride home last spring.

The defendant later took the stand and claimed that he had a monthlong sexual relationship with the victim. He testified the sex was consensual.

The woman suffered a large vaginal laceration on the night of the alleged sexual assault, and three doctors testified that she could have bled to death if she hadn’t received medical attention.

Jurors spoke to both attorneys after they were released from court. They said they began deliberations almost split down the middle, with one undecided juror. At 2 p.m. Tuesday, jurors relayed a note to Judge Plank that read, “The jury is split 10-2 in favor of not guilty ? what do we do?”

“There were inconsistencies on both sides,” one juror said after being released. “It all boils down to the credibility of the witnesses.”

Jurors also said the language barriers between the victim, the defendant and the court was problematic. They said they were frustrated when they felt the victim’s interpreter was “editorializing” the questions attorneys asked the victim and having inappropriate conversations in the victim’s Pilipino language.

Dominguez-Jimenez, a native of Honduras, spoke to the court through a Spanish interpreter. He is not in the United States illegally, as was reported previously, although the Immigration and Naturalization Service may deport him if he is convicted or pleads guilty at a later date.

There hasn’t been a hung jury in Pitkin County District Court since May 1998, when a jury could not agree on a felony theft case. The suspect later pleaded guilty to the theft charge.

“It’s like running a marathon and twisting your ankle in the last 100 yards. It’s horrible,” said Joe DiSalvo, chief of investigations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. “It seems like so long ago this happened on March 24, and here we are with no resolution. But I have to commend the two people who stuck to their guns. That’s a real tough spot to be in.”

Fellow jurors also seemed sympathetic to the two jurors whose consciences told them the defendant is guilty.

“I am proud that these people stood up when 10 people were saying they were wrong. They stuck to their guns,” Reiss said. “Their argument was that the prosecution proved their case.”

Reiss said that the severity of the victim’s wound was a mitigating factor in the jury room, but also that the defendant’s version of the events had “enough plausibility for us to have doubts.”

“I don’t think anybody is happy [with this outcome] in any way, shape or form. We voted our consciences, and some cases are tougher than others,” he said.

Judge Plank, a former Colorado Court of Appeals judge who came up from Denver to hear the case, thanked the jury for their work and released them, saying, “I hope you found jury service worthwhile. The system works even when there’s a hung jury.”

“We’re disappointed they didn’t reach a verdict, but obviously heartened that it was 10 to two,” said defense attorney Arnold Mordkin. “I honestly hope that if they can’t convict the first time, they can’t convict a second time. The case should be dismissed ? the DA should have the courage to dismiss this case.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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