By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A judge has found a Lewis County rape case must be dismissed because of intentional governmental misconduct by the sheriff’s deputy assisting the prosecutor during the trial.
The trial in Lewis County Superior Court began and then ended the same day last month in a mistrial.
Jordan T. White, 23, of Centralia, was facing a charge of second-degree rape for an alleged incident in 2014 at a rural Centralia home involving a young woman with whom he had somewhat of an intimate relationship.
Lewis County Superior Court Judge Nelson Hunt decided last week to dismiss the case. At issue was nonverbal communication in front of the jury by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Justin Rodgers, who was seated at the prosecutor’s table for the trial. Rodgers investigated the case.
Defense attorney Shane O’Rourke and Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Melissa Bohm each filed a proposed written order to document the judge’s decision. The two differed in how to characterize what occurred.
This week, the two lawyers and Judge Hunt spent almost an hour in a hearing discussing what the order should state. The document is called Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.
They agreed that Deputy Rodgers, while seated next to Bohm, dropped his pen onto the table at a particular point during the trial which drew the attention of members of the jury. He also had gestured to the alleged victim while she was on the witness stand.
“Deputy Rodgers engaged in intentional governmental misconduct by showing his disgust at the defendant’s version of events and communicating with the alleged victim through hand gestures during her testimony,” Hunt said of the wording he would adopt in the final document.
Judge Hunt went on to say that when the jury was sent out of the room and he questioned the deputy about his actions, the deputy was not immediately forthcoming in his answers.
The state has 30 days in which to decide if it will appeal the dismissal, according to Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.
The mistrial occurred on Nov. 29. Follow up hearings were held on Dec. 14 and this past Wednesday.
The incident was reported in the spring of 2015 to the sheriff’s office and charges were filed late this summer. The alleged victim said she was heavily intoxicated and realized the next morning she had been anally penetrated, according to court documents. White told the deputy what they did was her idea, because she wanted to remain a virgin, according to the documents.
O’Rourke said his client has mixed feelings about the outcome of his case.
“I think a lot of people would expect relief, or jubilance,” he said. “It’s not like that.”
Their position on the case was White was wrongly charged and they had been prepared to go all the way to a verdict, O’Rourke said.
An attempt to seek comment from Deputy Rodgers through the sheriff’s office resulted in Chief Deputy Dusty Breen stating that neither they nor the deputy would comment. Breen said the sheriff’s office would review what occurred.
For background, read “Rape case: Trial cut short in Lewis County Superior Court” from Wednesday November 30, 2016, here