The verdict is in: Dominic Jones, not guilty of rape, but guilty of unwanted sexual contact with a physically helpless woman. He still faces up to a year in prison.
While his future hangs in the balance, a number of questions remain, not just about Jones, but about the trial itself.
The case on appeal
Jones’ attorney Earl Gray made no secret of his intent to appeal the verdict.
He said he plans to appeal Hennepin County Judge Marilyn Rosenbaum’s ruling on the admissibility of the previous sexual conduct and retry the case.
Gray said he’s confident that with the sexual history admissible his client will be exonerated.
However, Peter Thompson, a Hamline University law professor who specializes in criminal law, said Gray would have to prove Rosenbaum erred in excluding the evidence, which won’t be easy.
But if Gray wins an appeal on that evidence, he would be afforded a retrial, Thompson said, adding that the odds of overturning a criminal conviction aren’t good.
Rape shield laws
One of the most contentious issues leading up to the trial was the inclusion of the fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct victim’s sexual history from that night in April.
Citing rape shield laws, Rosenbaum ruled the events prior to Jones performing the sex act on the woman were inadmissible.
The woman, according to the criminal complaint, had sex with three other former Gophers football players before Jones arrived that night. They were initially accused of raping her, but were never charged with a crime.
In proceedings, Gray repeatedly tried to reference the previous actions, but because of prosecutor’s objections and Rosenbaum’s rulings, was admonished for doing so.
“Every time I went there I was stopped,” Gray said after the verdict was announced, adding he was unable to give the jury a full picture of the night’s events.
However, the evidence can only be admitted if the “probative value” outweighs its “inflammatory or prejudicial nature,” according to Minnesota law.
Furthermore, rape shield laws protect victims from public scrutiny of their sex lives, Roberta Gibbons, associate director of the Aurora Center, said.
“Prior to rape shield laws, a survivor’s character would be called into question because she or he might have an active sex life,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how active your sex life is, you can still be sexually assaulted.”
The intent of the law is also to ensure the jury focuses on the incident in question, Gibbons added.
However, the law states the victim’s previous sexual conduct is admissible if it establishes a common scheme or plan of similar sexual conduct “under circumstances similar to the case at issue.” The judge must find the victim made false, prior allegations of sexual assault.
Typically, when past conduct is in question it has little to do with a case, Thompson said. But in Jones’ case, the ruling could raise an issue.
“In most cases what the victim’s sex life is really isn’t pertinent,” he said. “This is a closer case.”
Despite the intent to protect a victim’s reputation, in the Jones trial, the past sexual conduct frequently overlapped with other evidence and testimony.
The victim’s blood-alcohol content was questioned extensively in the case, and Jones testified she was standing up on her own when he entered the apartment. The victim, in testimony, maintained she had no memory of that night and she appeared unconscious in the cell phone video.
However, Jones testified the victim told him and former Gophers football player Alex Daniels, “she would but she was sore,” which Gray and Jones implied meant having sex again. It was stricken from the court record.
Another exception to rape shield laws is admitting past sexual conduct only to show the source of evidence in the case such as semen.
The state presented nine condoms recovered from the apartment with an array of DNA on them, some which partially matched Jones. But the names of those it matched and their conduct was found inadmissible, despite another former Gophers football player Keith Massey, who is Jones’ half-brother, being initially implicated in the night’s events.
Thompson said sexual history is likely included only if one of the people linked to the DNA testifies, to disclose potential bias. None of the other three players testified in the Jones trial.
-Jake Grovum is a senior staff reporter.