Verdict reached in Jordan Johnson rape

2013-03-01T10:08:00Z 2014-06-07T22:54:49Z Verdict reached in Jordan Johnson rapeGWEN FLORIO Missoulian The Billings Gazette
March 01, 2013 10:08 am  • 

MISSOULA - A Missoula County District Court jury has reached a verdict and is returning to the courtroom in the rape trial of former University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson.


UPDATE: A Missoula County District Court jury has found former University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson not guilty of rape.


Johnson was charged with sexual intercourse without consent in connection with a Feb. 4, 2012, incident with a fellow UM student as the two watched a movie in her bedroom.

Both Johnson and the woman who says he raped her testified during the 12-day trial. Johnson contended they had consensual sex and that at no point did the woman indicate it was anything other than enjoyable, saying he would have stopped immediately if she had.

But the woman said that, although he stopped the first time she said no, later he ignored her repeated "no's" and attempts to push him away, and raped her. She said she stopped resisting after he said, "Turn over or I'll make you."

In order to convict someone of sexual intercourse without consent, jurors must find the sex was non-consensual, and that the defendant knew it was non-consensual.

Throughout the trial, testimony returned to text messages sent by and to the woman, including one she sent moments after the incident to her housemate, who was playing video games in the living room.

"Omg ... I think I might have just gotten raped .... he kept pushing and pushing and I said no but he just wouldn't listen ... I just wanna cry ... omg what do I do?"

While the prosecution portrayed that text as evidence of an assault, the defense homed in on the word "think."

Johnson's defense attorneys, David Paoli and Kirsten Pabst, also made repeated references to the ongoing federal Department of Justice investigation into how the Missoula County Attorney's Office, the Missoula Police Department and UM's campus police handle reports of sexual assault.

That investigation was announced in May, well after the woman reported to police in March that Johnson had raped her. But the County Attorney's Office didn't charge him until July.

The prosecution team for the trial included Assistant Chief Deputy County Attorney Suzy Boylan, Assistant Attorney General Joel Thompson and Adam Duerk, a private attorney who has worked with the County Attorney's Office on other high-profile cases.

County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg was in the courtroom for some of the testimony, and for Friday's closing arguments. The trial also attracted a contingent of Grizzlies football players, as well as former UM athletic director Jim O'Day, who lost his job along with then-coach Robin Pflugrad amid controversy surrounding the Johnson case.

Present coach Mick Delaney was in the courtroom Friday, as well as former UM vice president Jim Foley. UM's announcement last spring that Foley would leave that position came amid turmoil surrounding sexual assaults involving UM students.

Johnson was suspended from the team when he was charged with rape. A former teammate, running back Beau Johnson, was sentenced in January to 30 years in prison, with 20 suspended, for raping a childhood friend.


AFTERNOON REPORT: A Missoula County District Court jury is now deliberating the fate of former University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson, charged with rape.

The seven-woman, five-man jury left the courtroom a little after 1 p.m., after a morning of jury instructions and closing arguments in the 12-day trial.

Although Johnson is the one on trial, those closing arguments focused on the woman who says he raped her as the two watched a movie in her home on Feb. 4, 2012.

"This courtroom is full of doubt," defense attorney David Paoli said. "Do you believe [the woman] beyond a reasonable doubt?"

Assistant Attorney General Joel Thompson referred to such comments when he said the woman "has had to crawl through a proverbial tunnel of sewage to get here to tell her story."

The closing arguments took place in a standing-room-only courtroom packed with, among others, Grizzlies football players, Coach Mick Delaney - who assumed that job when former coach Robin Pflugrad was fired amid controversy about the Johnson case - and former UM athletic director Jim O'Day, who lost his job the same day as Pflugrad.

Former UM Vice President Jim Foley, whose departure from that position was announced amid ongoing turmoil over sexual assaults involving university students, also was in the courtroom Friday.

"This is not about Grizzlies football," Paoli said. "It's about what people do when they're vengeful and they want to take it out on somebody."

All along, the defense has maintained the woman was upset when, after consensual sex, Johnson got up immediately without any cuddling and didn't talk to her, other than to say, "Well, thanks," as she drove him home.

The woman and her family and friends also were in the courtroom. She sat stone-faced as, at one point, Paoli lay a life-size outline of a woman on the courtroom floor and climbed atop it, purporting to show the jury that the assault could not have happened the way she described.

Thompson derided the vengeance theory, telling jurors that if revenge were the woman's motivation, she went about it exceedingly badly.

"She apparently knew that screaming and yelling wouldn't be authentic," he said, "... and she decided apparently that the best way to help her lie was to give him a ride home. What a great thing to do to further her malicious plot."

Throughout the trial, the defense has made much of the fact that the woman did not cry for help during the alleged attack, despite the fact that one housemate was playing video games in the living room, and another was asleep in the apartment.

Indeed, said Paoli in his closing argument, "it's common sense to talk about the fact that she didn't scream, she didn't roll off the bed."

Paoli also alluded in his argument to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into how the Missoula Police Department, the Missoula County Attorney's Office and the UM campus police handle sexual assault reports. Johnson was being prosecuted, Paoli implied, because of the political atmosphere surrounding the investigation.

"That's why he's here," Paoli said of Johnson. "Because we put him on a status [i.e., as a high-profile football player] and what are they gonna do with this one?"

****

Assistant Chief Deputy County Attorney Suzy Boylan said the case is solely about rape.

"It's not about an insensitive lover who didn't cuddle. It's about a defendant who didn't take no for an answer," she said.

And it is not, she said - as the defense has repeatedly characterized it - a "he said-she said" case.

Instead, she said, there was evidence of the things needed to prove, according to Montana law, sexual intercourse without consent.

The sex has to have been nonconsensual and the defendant has to have known that. Physical resistance on the part of the victim is not required.

But the woman did resist, Boylan said, reminding jurors of the woman's testimony that she tried to push Johnson away with her arms and her knees. And the woman testified that she repeatedly said no, acquiescing only when he said, "Turn over or I'll make you."

"You have enough tools in your toolbox to give [her] the accountability she deserves," said Boylan, urging a guilty verdict.

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