Henry Rayhons acquitted on sex abuse charge (updated)

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 […].”

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Henry Rayhons will be tried in his home county

A district court judge has ruled that former State Representative Henry Rayhons will be tried in Hancock County for 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse (allegedly having sex with his incapacitated wife). Prosecutors had tried to move the trial to another county, a request more often made by defense attorneys. Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register,

District Judge Rustin Davenport heard arguments last week from prosecutors, who said extensive pretrial publicity about the case would make it impossible to find impartial jurors in Rayhons’ home county. But the judge sided with defense lawyer Joel Yunek, who contended that the news coverage included statements both sympathetic and harmful to Henry Rayhons.

“Exposure to news accounts does not by itself create substantial likelihood of prejudice in minds of prospective jurors and does not alone entitle a party to a change of venue,” the judge wrote, in a decision filed late Friday afternoon. Davenport wrote that the articles in question, including those in local media, The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News, mostly consisted of material that would be introduced at trial anyway.

The judge disagreed with prosecutors’ contention that jurors could be swayed by Rayhons’ supporters’ statements in the media that the charge was politically motivated by a Democratic attorney general against a Republican legislator.

“The court is skeptical that most jurors would accept such speculative statements or that such statements would influence most fair-minded jurors,” Davenport wrote. “…Even though the defendant was re-elected with approximately 70 percent of the vote in 2012, the defendant’s popularity in the polls does not equate to jurors being unable to be fair and impartial regarding a criminal prosecution against an elected official or formerly elected official. The court would note that the public is much less likely to put their elected officials on a pedestal as they may have been in the past.”

During last week’s hearing,

Yunek said the unusual case will raise difficult questions for jurors to consider. “But whether those jurors reside in Hancock or Poweshiek or Sioux or Johnson or any county in the state of Iowa, it’s going to be the same challenges, the same grappling, regardless,” he said.

I will be surprised if Rayhons is convicted. All he needs is one juror who believes a man can do whatever he wants with his wife. In any group of Iowans selected for jury duty, there is probably at least one person inclined toward that view, regardless of the trial venue.

On the other hand, I suspect Rayhons is more likely to get a sympathetic hearing from people he represented for eighteen years in the Iowa House than from a random group of twelve Iowans who have never heard of him. State lawmakers get overwhelmingly positive attention from local news media. If I were the prosecutor in this case, I would have wanted to move the trial, not primarily because of reporting about the arrest and alleged crime, but to avoid the residual effect from many years of favorable coverage Rayhons would have received as “our man in Des Moines.”  

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State Representative Henry Rayhons charged with abusing his incapacitated wife

When I criticized State Representative Henry Rayhons for announcing his retirement so late in an election year, I had no idea this was coming down the pike:

Today, 78 year old Henry Rayhons of Garner, Iowa was arrested after charges were filed against him for 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse, a class C Felony. […]

The criminal complaint states that on or about May 23, 2014, Rayhons committed sexual abuse upon the victim [Donna Rayhons] by performing a sex act upon her as a person suffering from mental defect or incapacity, after he had been told that the victim did not have the cognitive ability to give consent to any sexual activity.

You can view the complaint and affidavit here (pdf). After the jump I’ve posted the full text of the Iowa Department of Public Safety press release, a statement released by Henry Rayhons’ attorney, and excerpts from relevant news coverage. Henry Rayhons has been released from jail after posting bail. Donna Rayhons passed away on August 8.

It appears that the prosecution’s case against Rayhons will rely on testimony from Donna Rayhons’ roommate at the nursing home, surveillance camera footage from the nursing home, and statements the state lawmaker made while being interviewed by a Department of Criminal Investigations agent on June 12. Judging from comments made yesterday by Rayhons’ son and by his attorney, the defense will argue that Rayhons is the victim of a “witch hunt,” that he loved his wife, and that the “sexual contact” he admitted to “could be anything from a hug or a kiss.”

Rayhons’ late retirement makes a lot more sense now. By the way, on August 14 local Republicans held a special election to nominate Terry Baxter in Iowa House district 8, the seat Rayhons will vacate. Baxter will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature (revisited)

A few months ago, Bleeding Heartland criticized the practice of longtime Iowa legislators announcing their retirements within a day or two of the filing deadline for primary candidates. Too many incumbents in both parties have pulled that stunt over the years. Respect for one’s constituents demands giving people outside a small circle of party activists a few weeks, or ideally a few months, to consider running for the Iowa House or Senate.

Yesterday, State Representative Henry Rayhons demonstrated an even worse way to retire from the Iowa legislature. Just eleven days before the deadline for getting a candidate on the general election ballot, the nine-term Iowa House Republican announced that he would not seek re-election, citing “ongoing family and health matters.” Rae Yost reported for the Mason City Globe-Gazette that the Rayhons family “has been dealing with issues regarding appointment of a guardian and conservator” for the 78-year-old lawmaker’s wife.

Rayhons should have announced his retirement earlier this year, anticipating that he would be unable to serve another two-year term. Then other Republicans could have competed in a primary to represent Iowa House district 8, covering part of Kossuth County and all of Hancock and Wright counties. Now only a handful of GOP activists will have a say in choosing Rayhons’ successor. They need to convene a nominating convention in the middle of vacation season and the Iowa State Fair. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

Arguably, Rayhons should have stepped aside gracefully three years ago, after Iowa’s new map of political boundaries threw him and two House GOP colleagues into House district 8. Instead, House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer moved to the Clear Lake area to run in House district 52. It made no sense for Upmeyer to defer to an eight-term backbencher like Rayhons when doing so meant bigfooting Gabe Haugland, the ambitious young Republican who was already planning to run in HD-52. Everyone could see that Rayhons didn’t have a long political career ahead of him and wasn’t a key member of the House GOP caucus. We haven’t seen the last of Haugland, who was elected to the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee earlier this year. But he could be seeking a second term in a safe Iowa House seat by now if Rayhons had allowed Upmeyer to stay in HD-08.

I’m glad there is no mandatory retirement age for Iowa legislators, but sometimes our older incumbents are too reluctant to step aside for a younger generation.

UPDATE: I was sorry to hear that Donna Lou Young Rayhons passed away on August 8.

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Iowa House rejects broadband access bill

When bills come to the floor of the Iowa House or Senate, the outcome of the vote is typically a foregone conclusion. Leaders rarely call up bills that don’t have the votes to pass. But in “the most surprising vote of the day, if not this year’s session,” Iowa House members on Friday rejected House File 2472, a bill designed to expand broadband access in small-town and rural Iowa. The initiative was among Governor Terry Branstad’s legislative priorities this year. While the goal is uncontroversial, especially in communities where people are stuck with dialup internet, lawmakers disagreed on how to accomplish the task.

The House Journal for April 25 includes details from the floor debate, including roll calls on two Democratic amendments that failed to pass on party-line votes. One of them was a “strike” amendment replacing the entire content of House File 2472 with stronger incentives favored by House Democrats. After the routine business of rejecting minority party amendments, a vote was called on final passage. But only 42 Republicans voted yes, joined by just two Democrats. I’ve posted a list of yes and no votes after the jump. House Minority Leader Mark Smith said Democrats opposed the bill because it “does not go far enough in expanding broadband access to more homes and small businesses.” The Republicans who voted no may have been put off by the size of the tax breaks or the lack of accountability. State Representative Guy Vander Linden told Radio Iowa, “We don’t say they need to meet any requirements in terms of our capacity, speed – anything. All we say is: ‘If you will put broadband infrastructure in place in any unserved or underserved area…we’ll give you all these benefits.’ That, to me, sounds like a blank check that I’m not willing to sign up to.”

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer has already filed a motion to reconsider the vote on this bill, so leaders may believe they can find the votes they need through friendly persuasion or arm-twisting. (She was one of the “no” votes, presumably to preserve her ability to file the bill again after realizing it would not pass.) Two Republicans (Clel Baudler and Ron Jorgensen) were absent from Friday’s vote. Assuming they support the broadband bill and Upmeyer changes her vote, House leaders would need to persuade four more Republicans or Democrats.

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Iowa Republican lawmakers who voted for the last minimum wage increase

Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum and House Minority Leader Mark Smith both called for raising Iowa’s minimum wage in their opening remarks to fellow legislators yesterday. Increasing the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 would raise earnings for roughly 332,000 Iowa workers, according to a 2012 estimate. It would acknowledge the reality that “the minimum wage does not keep a full-time worker out of poverty.”  

Governor Terry Branstad said last week that a minimum wage hike is “not part of my agenda,” suggesting that job training and efforts to attract high-skilled jobs would be sufficient. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen indicated that he sees a minimum wage increase as “[m]aking it harder to be an employer in the state of Iowa.”

However, appearing on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” program yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal pointed out that Branstad signed a minimum wage increase during the 1980s and that Paulsen had voted for the January 2007 bill that raised the wage. On the same program, Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer acknowledged that there may be support for a minimum wage increase in her caucus, since at least half of current House Republicans who were in the legislature in 2007 had voted for that minimum wage hike. Like Paulsen, Upmeyer was a yes vote. At the time, he was House minority whip and she was one of four assistant minority leaders.

Iowa’s last minimum wage hike was the first bill Governor Chet Culver signed into law. House File 1 sailed through, passing by 79 votes to 19 in the Iowa House and 40 votes to 8 in the Iowa Senate. All of the Democrats supported the bill. After the jump I’ve listed how all of the current Republican lawmakers voted on the minimum wage increase. Twelve supported the bill, thirteen opposed it, and one was absent for the 2007 vote.

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