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.

Iowa Department of Public Safety press release, August 15:

Iowa State Representative Charged with Felony

Garner, IOWA – 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.  Rayhons is the House District 8 state representative.

On the evening of May 23, 2014, the Garner Police Department responded to the Concord Care Center, a long term care facility in Garner, Iowa, regarding a reported sexual abuse which had occurred earlier in the evening involving one of its residents and Rayhons.  After obtaining initial information, the Garner Police Department requested the assistance of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) for further investigation.

The criminal complaint states that on or about May 23, 2014, Rayhons committed sexual abuse upon the victim 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.

Complaint & Affidavit

Rayhons was arrested today, by Agents with the DCI, and transported to the Hancock County Jail.  Rayhons was booked in the jail on $10,000 cash-only bond.

The Hancock County Attorney’s Office has referred this case to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.

I don’t think it’s uncommon for a local county attorney to refer an unusual or high-profile case to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, but the defense will likely highlight that fact as a sign of the alleged “witch hunt.” Statement released by Henry Rayhons’ Attorney Joel Yunek on August 15:

“Our family would like to comment on the very private matter, now made very public by the filing of a criminal charge by the Attorney General’s Office out of Des Moines.

“We loved Donna. She filled a gap in dad’s life after our mom died, and dad filled a gap in her life after her husband died. From what we saw, they truly loved each other and were great for each other.

“Donna, and all of us, decline over time. Her daughters chose to put her in a nursing home. This was their decision, and we respect that decision.

“We all have relatives in nursing homes, and none of us would say we loved them less because of their location. And Donna’s location did not change our Dad’s love for Donna nor her love for him. It did not change their marriage relationship. And so he continued to have contact with his spouse in the nursing home; who among us would not?

“We believe that nursing home patients do better, emotionally and physically, with consistent and proper social stimuli from spouses, relatives and friends. Accusing a spouse of a crime for continuing a relationship with his spouse in a nursing home seems to us to be incredibly illogical and unnatural, as well as incredibly hurtful.

“We want it to be clear the Attorney General’s Office, not the Hancock County Attorney’s Office, filed these charges. Whether the motivation for filing is political or monetary, we intend to fight that poisonous motivation in any way we can and clear dad’s name.”

We don’t have all the facts. Henry Rayhons is presumed innocent. But it’s a stretch to claim that the Iowa Attorney General’s Office is pursuing a politically motivated witch hunt. I can’t think of anything like this happening during all the years Tom Miller has been attorney general. Has his office ever prosecuted a sitting Republican elected official before?

Henry and Donna Rayhons married in 2007, and his relationship with her children had been strained toward the end of Donna’s life. The Mason City Globe-Gazette reported on June 18 that a judge ordered Donna Rayhons’ daughter, Suzan Brunes, to be her mother’s temporary guardian:

Brunes said her mother has Alzheimer’s disease.

“…certain issues have arisen while (Donna Rayhons) has been a resident of Concord Care Center including, but not limited to issues between her spouse (Henry Rayhons) and her other family members, but also between her spouse and the staff at Concord Care Center,” Brunes said in her application.

Brunes said Henry Rayhons has difficulty following parameters set by Concord Care staff about removal of Donna Rayhons from the care center without staff permission, being in her room with the door closed, and not entering Donna Rayhons’ room because of alleged conflicts with her roommate.

The problems caused by the situation has caused her mother’s mental health to deteriorate, Brunes said in her application.

The Des Moines Register’s report on Rayhons’ arrest includes comments by the lawmaker’s son.

Henry Rayhons’ son, Dale Rayhons, called the arrest the result of “a witch hunt.”

Dale Rayhons said Friday evening that the charge was based on a report by Donna Rayhons’ roommate of unclear sounds coming from behind a curtain.

“This is unbelievable, what’s going on,” Dale Rayhons said. “He’s the kindest person you’d ever meet.”

Dale Rayhons said that while authorities say his father admitted to sexual contact, “that could be anything from a hug or a kiss.” […]

Elizabeth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said it used to be legal for a man to have sex with a nonconsenting wife. But the Legislature passed a bill about 25 years ago that defined such an act as a crime, she said.

However, she noted that Iowa law still specifies that a sexual assault perpetrated by one spouse on another is not considered a “forcible felony.” […]

Barnhill said few Iowans are arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a spouse, Barnhill said.

“Convictions are even rarer,” she said.

She added that sex assault prosecutions can be especially complicated if a victim has died or is mentally incompetent to testify about what happened.

UPDATE: A few more questions came to mind after thinking about this case. Yesterday’s news release from the Iowa DPS says, “The Hancock County Attorney’s Office has referred this case to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.” The official statement from Henry Rayhons’ family says, “We want it to be clear the Attorney General’s Office, not the Hancock County Attorney’s Office, filed these charges. Whether the motivation for filing is political or monetary, we intend to fight that poisonous motivation in any way we can and clear dad’s name.”

My questions for Bleeding Heartland readers who have practiced criminal law or are familiar with the criminal justice system: how surprising is it that the county attorney would refer this case to the AG’s office? Is it likely that this happened because the defendant is a high-profile local citizen? Or maybe because prosecuting a husband for sexual contact with his wife is highly unusual? If the Hancock County Attorney referred the case to the AG’s office, does that imply the county attorney determined it was worth prosecuting? Or does it imply the county attorney wanted to punt and leave that decision to the AG’s office?

Everyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent. I don’t want this thread to degenerate into an argument over whether Henry Rayhons is guilty. Let the court sort that out. I want to know how often county attorneys kick cases they don’t want to handle over to the AG. Some Republicans are claiming this is politically motivated prosecution by the AG (though Tom Miller could never have orchestrated this chain of events).

  • AG prosecution

    There could be any number of reasons for the county attorney to kick a case to the AGs office. Usually it’s a big murder case where the local CA does not have the expertise or staff to try a big case. It could also be because the local CA may be part time and have a conflict with prosecuting someone who might’ve been a client at one point in time, or some other local reason. We have no idea what the deal is here, but it is a question worth asking, and the public deserves an answer. I would highly doubt Miller’s office is being brought in for political reasons, however. It’s not uncommon for a big case to get referred to the AG.  

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