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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