A Hancock County jury acquitted former State Representative Henry Rayhons today on a charge of 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse. Rayhons was accused of having sex with his incapacitated wife in an assisted living facility last May. Prosecutors had tried unsuccessfully to move the trial out of Rayhons’ home county, which he had represented for eighteen years in the Iowa House.
The jury deliberated for three days before reaching a not guilty verdict. During the trial, Rayhons denied that he had sex with his wife on the date in question. He had admitted to doing so when first interviewed by a state investigator, but during the trial he said that the investigator had been yelling at him and bullied him into the admission. His DNA was found on his wife’s clothing and bed sheets, but on the witness stand during the trial, Donna Rayhons’ former roommate testified that she could not be sure of hearing Rayhons having sex with his wife. The the defense argued that the defendant’s DNA “could have been left on his wife’s things from a previous sexual encounter, before Rayhons had been told by nursing home staff his wife was no longer able to consent to sex.” A nurse’s exam produced no proof of sexual intercourse on the date in question.
In closing arguments, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Susan Krisko tried to keep the jury focused on the specific events of this case rather than a “philosophical debate” on “whether or not someone with Alzheimer’s can have sex.” But Rayhons’ attorney warned jurors,
“It’s an unprecedented case. The decision that you make here will be debated, discussed, followed for years,” defense lawyer Joel Yunek said in his closing statement. He said a guilty verdict could make other spouses afraid to even visit a husband or wife with Alzheimer’s disease, for fear of being charged as a rapist if the partner with dementia grabbed them the way Rayhons says Donna Rayhons did to him.
Under those circumstances, I’m not surprised the jury acquitted. The defense was wise to frame the case in broad terms, since the trial was getting national attention. We can only hope that Krisko was wrong about an acquittal being tantamount to declaring “open season” on vulnerable people in nursing homes.
LATE UPDATE: In early May, juror Angela Nelson, posted her perspective on the case and why the jury acquitted. Worth clicking through to read the whole piece, but ultimately, forensic evidence was lacking to prove the prosecutor’s case. Nelson added that people “with Alzheimer’s are still human beings that have the same emotional needs we all have,” and “For the state of Iowa to try and legislate intimacy between a married couple is a very dark road to go down […].”Continue Reading...