MISSOULA - Jordan Johnson took the witness stand in his own defense Monday and told a seven-woman, five-man jury how he met the woman who says the former University of Montana quarterback raped her.
It was, he said, the night of the 2011 Foresters’ Ball – not, as the woman testified, in classes that they took together. They danced, he said. Exchanged phone numbers.
“What were your intentions of a relationship with her?” asked defense counsel Kirsten Pabst.
“I don’t think I had any,” he said.
Johnson’s time on the stand highlighted an emotional day marked by testimony from the woman’s family, including her mother, who countered defense contentions that she’d disbelieved her daughter’s account or blamed her; as well as from a nurse who – as an expert witness for the defense – criticized a medical exam performed on the woman at a center for sexual assault victims.
And, there was still more skirmishing from the lawyers, this time with accusations aimed at the judge.
No defendant is required to testify in his own defense, and if one chooses not to, judges instruct juries not to draw any conclusions from that. On Monday, Pabst urged Johnson to tell jurors why he wanted to tell his side of the story.
“Because that’s what happened,” he said. “They deserve to know.”
Johnson choked up at the very beginning of his testimony, describing the closeness of his family, but quickly settled down and spoke calmly for the rest of his time on the stand.
He said that after a few dates that fizzled and months with little contact except for sporadic texts, he and the woman ran into each other again at the 2012 Foresters’ Ball, a year after that first meeting. The next night, according to the woman, Johnson raped her as they watched a movie at her house.
He’s charged with sexual intercourse without consent in connection with that Feb. 4, 2012, incident. He says the sex was consensual.
Johnson’s account of his interactions with the woman, a fellow UM student, largely dovetails with the account she gave when she testified as the prosecution’s first witness, differing – so far – only in the details of how they met.
Both described a few sessions of movies and ice cream, and hanging out in their respective dorm rooms. Each said there was some kissing – “French kissing,” Johnson specified in response to a question from Pabst – and each said Johnson stopped when the woman told him “no” the one time he tried to unbutton her pants.
And, each agreed they began texting each other again in the fall 2011 semester after the woman complimented Johnson for a good football game. In fact, he even texted her for a ride home one night when he’d had too much to drink at a party.
By then, “you kinda liked her?” Pabst asked.
“Not necessarily,” he said.
He said the woman took him home that night, asked for a tour of the house he shared with five other Grizzlies players, and then left. “No kissing? No hug?” Pabst said. No, said Johnson. He said “thank you” and she left.
At about the same time, Johnson testified, he was becoming involved with another student, also largely via texting, although increasingly they would hang out together. They weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend, he said, adding that they kissed, but their relationship went no further.
“I didn’t think I was ready for that,” he said.
Over the holiday break, the other girl visited him at his Oregon home and that, he said, is when “I realized I liked (her) a lot.”
He said he saw both women at the Foresters’ Ball on Feb. 3, 2012, and danced with each, albeit spending most of his time with the woman who’d visited him in Oregon. However, he said he agreed – at her suggestion – to “marry” the other woman in a traditional Foresters’ Ball spoof ceremony. But they tired of waiting in a long line and drifted back to their respective groups of friends, he said.
At one point in the evening, he kissed the woman who’d come to see him in Oregon – then looked up to see the other one watching, he said. “She just kind of walked away” when he looked at her, he testified.
At that point, Johnson’s narrative was roughly 24 hours away from the event that would see him accused of rape. It was also 5 p.m., with the trial ending for the day, not to resume until Wednesday, because Tuesday is Judge Karen Townsend’s regular court day.
Testimony may have been over at 5 p.m., but the lawyers weren’t finished.
Once jurors had left the courtroom, Pabst told Townsend the defense felt as though the judge was applying separate rules to the prosecution and defense concerning leading questions. Specifically, she said, the defense was getting overruled more often when objecting to prosecution questions as leading.
“You have asked a lot of leading questions,” Townsend responded. “You can’t ask a question and then suggest the answer, which is the definition of a leading question.”
“There’s a bit of a double standard,” Pabst pressed, as defense counsel David Paoli chimed in.
He’d objected several times to what he felt were leading questions by Assistant Attorney General Joel Thompson, Paoli said. “I was overruled multiple times. ... I’ll leave it at that. We’re concerned about that.”
“You’ve made your record,” Townsend said.
Jurors also heard Monday from the woman’s parents and her brother, who is three years younger, all of whom testified about the weekend she came home from college to tell them about the incident.
“She started off really calm,” said the woman’s brother, describing his sister’s demeanor during the conversation a year ago. “By the end, she started breaking down.”
“I cried uncontrollably” at the news, the woman’s mother said. Far from blaming her daughter or being angry at her – issues raised in earlier testimony – the woman’s mother said she was angry “that someone could have done this to her.”
Among the prosecution’s final witnesses was Missoula Police Detective Sgt. Travis Welsh, who took the stand first Monday morning and testified about talking to both the woman and, later, her parents about the process involved in pursuing a criminal complaint.
Pabst asked Welsh about news reports that preceded the Johnson case, involving complaints about the police department’s handling of previous sexual assault cases. Earlier cross-examination by the defense has focused on a theme that the case against Johnson arose amid community pressure over the issue of sexual assault.
Last year, the police department revised its manual with regard to sexual assault investigations.
“Are you aware that the new policy was in direct response to a young woman criticizing the Missoula Police Department in public?” Pabst asked Welsh.
“No,” said Welsh.
“Are you aware of the looming Department of Justice investigation?” Pabst said.
Welsh said that he’s talked to federal Justice Department investigators who are looking into how the police department, the County Attorney’s Office and the UM campus police handle sexual assault cases. But, as he pointed out, the woman made her complaint against Johnson in March; the DOJ investigation was not announced until May.
Katherine Scholl, a retired forensic nurse from Florida now living in Florence, testified for the defense that the medical examination, performed on the woman at the First Step center for sexual assault victims, doesn’t “indicate anything.”
“What it tells me,” she said, “is that you had two individuals that had sex.”
Under cross-examination by prosecuting attorney Adam Duerk, Scholl said she had not practiced nursing since she retired in 2005, and has never worked as a nurse in Montana.
The defense also called a character witness for Johnson, Mike McGowan, who serves as chaplain to the Grizzlies.
McGowan, who runs a private equity firm, said he’s volunteered for nine seasons as the team chaplain, despite not having a divinity degree or attended seminary. He said he’s studying toward such certification.
Johnson, he said, is “very respectful and unassuming, and a young man of integrity.”
“I’ve never heard Jordy actually swear, which, frankly, is unusual,” he said.
Under cross-examination, McGowan said that other than sitting next to Johnson on team flights – for which he doesn’t pay – or bus rides, or at team dinners, he’s never really had a one-on-one conversation with him.