Local News

School sexual assault case in hands of jury

The defense rested its case Friday afternoon (5-17-14) in the sexual assault trial of former Blatchley Middle School principal Joe Robidou. The case is now with the jury.

KCAW’s Robert Woolsey attended all the proceedings over the week. He discussed the major issues of the case with Emily Forman during Raven Radio’s live newscast that evening.

Forman — Rob, Where do things stand now in this case?

Woolsey — The jury got the case at about 4 PM this afternoon and plans to deliberate this evening. The judge offered to allow them to deliberate on Saturday, if they wish.

Forman — Do you have any sense of how long it will take to reach a verdict?

Woolsey — Not really. Superior Court Judge David George acquitted Robidou on one of the four counts of Indecent Exposure he’s facing, because the victim testified that she covered her eyes and left the room before seeing anything.

But he still faces 3 Counts of Indecent Exposure in the Second Degree — and these acts also allegedly involve touching himself in a sexual manner — and 4 counts of Sexual Assault in the 2nd Degree, and 1 count of just plain Assault in the 4th Degree. So that’s 9 counts that the jury has to decide.

Forman — I understand it was a pretty dramatic day in court. What happened?

Woolsey — This morning the defense brought forward three of its own witnesses to challenge the credibility of the state’s lead witness, a former Blatchley teacher who alleged that Robidou came to her home and assaulted her by placing his hands around her neck and saying “this would be easier if you were passed out.” He later returned to her home, allegedly exposed himself, and touched himself in a sexual manner.

The woman’s former student teacher testified that she had seen inappropriate conduct by the woman and Robidou at school, and had reported it to the district. Another witness, a former boyfriend, said that her attentions toward Robidou had caused friction in their relationship and led to a breakup.

But the most dramatic witness was Deb Riva, Joe Robidou’s wife, who testified about her suspicions that Robidou was being unfaithful — her learning that he was having “affairs” — her words — with three women. And the pain of dealing with all that. The judge ordered a recess when Riva broke down. When she returned to the stand she described her efforts now to repair her relationship with Robidou, a relationship she described as “worth fighting for.”

Forman — And what about closing arguments?

Woolsey — The state’s case is built on the idea that past consent does not imply future consent. One of the victims admitted to a one-night stand with Robidou in 2011. District attorney Jean Seaton had to address consent, the women’s reluctance to accept Robidou’s attentions as they escalated from friendly partying to unwanted sexual advances. The women all testified that they had relationships within Blatchley — socially and professionally — that they did not want to jeopardize by becoming involved with Robidou.

Seaton also characterized Robidou’s behavior as predatory: He identified women who were vulnerable, made them become dependent on him somehow, and then selected a venue — often an empty classroom — to make an overt sexual gesture by groping them, exposing himself, and touching himself sexually.

At no time did Robidou rape or sexually penetrate the women: It was repeated, unwanted advances, sometimes at school, sometimes in their home, or at his. Jean Seaton said “If only one woman had come forward, it might have been a different determination. Three of them means Mr. Robidou engages in forced sexual contact.”

The defense on the other hand emphasized the fact that the women all said yes before they said no — one even had sex with Robidou two years ago. Attorney Julie Willoughby argued that this meant that Robidou could not have recklessly disregarded their lack of consent — which is what is required by the sexual assault statute. She disputed the use of force. She urged the jury to use common sense — all the women were easily able to get away from him when he engaged in one of these acts. She argued that they continued to socialize together. She told the jurors “You have a right to be upset with Mr. Robidou — outside this courtroom…. This was ungentlemanly behavior, bad behavior — it might have been harassment, but that is for another courtroom, a civil courtroom.”

Forman — And the jury is still out, as they say?

Woolsey — Yes, I’ll be checking in at the courthouse this evening to see where this jury is going.

The jury deliberated until about 7 PM Friday evening, and then notified the judge that they plan to reconvene on Monday (5-19-14) at 9 AM.

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