By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A judge declared a mistrial yesterday in a rape case in Lewis County Superior Court and it’s not clear if prosecutors will attempt to try again.
A 23-year-old Centralia man was charged late this summer for an incident reported in the spring of 2015 that allegedly occurred a year earlier at a rural Centralia home with a young woman with whom he had somewhat of an intimate relationship.
Jordan T. White was charged with second-degree rape, pleaded not guilty and proceeded to trial. He has been free on an unsecured bond.
Defense attorney Shane O’Rourke said they were most of the way through their first day yesterday, when the sheriff’s deputy sitting with the deputy prosecutor dropped his pen onto the table, at a particular point during a recording being played for the jury.
O’Rourke said he wondered if it was intentional or not and began watching the deputy, and saw him bow his head and put it into the palm of his hand, in a way a person could potentially perceive to mean, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”
Finally, when the deputy gestured to the alleged victim while she was on the stand testifying, O’Rourke made an objection and the jurors were sent out of the room.
“I wondered, is he encouraging her to cry, trying to console her,” he said. “Unfortunately, the jurors were watching.”
It’s common for the investigating law enforcement officer to sit at the prosecutor’s table during criminal trials. Officers of the court are not allowed to comment on the evidence during trial, even non-verbally.
O’Rourke asked Judge Nelson Hunt for a dismissal, for government misconduct, saying he believed the deputy’s actions tainted the jury.
Judge Hunt concluded the defendant had been prejudiced, citing intentional and problematic behavior, O’Rourke said. He declared a mistrial.
Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Melissa Bohm declined to comment today if another trial would be held.
Bohm said the attorneys will go before a judge tomorrow, to set a new date for a trial, but she expects the defense will make a motion to dismiss the case entirely.
The case was investigated by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, beginning in April 2015. The alleged victim, 19 years old at the time, said she didn’t report it when it happened out of fear, embarrassment and uncertainty about what would happen, according to charging documents.
She told the deputy she and her friends were drinking Fireball, she was heavily intoxicated and realized the next morning she had been anally penetrated, according to the allegations. White told the deputy the two had a history of fooling around, with oral sex, and on the night in question, what they did was her idea, because she wanted to remain a virgin, the documents state.
A brief hearing is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court.