Location, location, location
Neil Anderson and Marina Spencer won a trial in Clark County Superior Court for a client charged with one count of rape of a child in the first degree and two counts of child molestation in the first degree.
The jury returned the unanimous “not guilty” verdict on Aug. 18 after 5 ½ hours of deliberation.
Afterward, jurors said they didn’t even get around to discussing the details of the allegations. They didn’t make it that far because they couldn’t even agree the state had proved what is typically a very easy hurdle for the state to clear: jurisdiction.
The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office can only prosecute crimes committed in Clark County. During the four-day trial, none of the state’s witnesses identified a location in Clark County where the alleged abuse occurred.
The alleged victim, an 8-year-old girl, first said she was abused in 2020, after her mother asked if she had ever been inappropriately touched. At a forensic interview in Pendleton, Ore., where the family was living, the girl said she was abused by her uncle. She was asked if the alleged crimes occurred in Washington. After ignoring the question several times, she finally answered, “Yes, don’t you understand?” The forensic interviewer then asked her again, but the girl did not answer.
Her uncle lived in Vancouver, and the Pendleton police referred the case to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
The client was charged in 2021, and initially had an attorney who retired during the pandemic. Our office was assigned to the case in September 2022.
During trial, the girl said she couldn’t remember where she was when she was touched by her uncle. Her grandmother and mother testified about locations based on what the girl had said before, and they were not in Clark County.
After the state rested, Anderson asked for a directed verdict. He argued (outside the presence of the jury) that none of the state’s witnesses said the alleged crimes took place in Clark County. Judge Robert Lewis denied the motion, noting that whether the state proved jurisdiction beyond a reasonable doubt would be a question for the jury.
The client, after appearing to sleep during the first three and a half days of trial, had a nervous breakdown just before testifying. Anderson had to go into the men's room, where he found his client in a fetal position, cradled by his wife. Doing his best impression of John Travolta in “Get Shorty,” Anderson said "Look at me. It's time to be strong. Not weak, like a little bitch."
The client testified he never abused his niece.
During closing argument, a senior deputy prosecutor told jurors that they heard evidence the crimes happened in Vancouver.
Spencer called him out. During closing, she asked jurors if they ever heard anyone testify where the alleged crimes took place. She challenged the prosecutor to get up during his rebuttal and give the names of any witness who testified the crimes happened at a location in Clark County.
The prosecutor did give a rebuttal, but notably did not mention location.
If convicted the client would have faced a minimum of 7 ½ years in prison under state guidelines, and likely much longer, especially if he had been convicted of rape of a child in the first degree. People convicted of that crime, a Class A felony, can receive a life sentence.