A Taos district court jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon (May 17) after hearing evidence presented over the course of a two-day trial in a case filed against John Rael, a former coach with …
A Taos district court jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon (May 17) after hearing evidence during a two-day trial in the case of John Rael, a former coach with the Questa School System accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in 2016.
The first day of trial, Wednesday (May 16), saw several witnesses take the stand, including the alleged victim, who is now 16.
She recounted the incident that allegedly took place on June 9, 2016, when Rael, a man whom she said she had trusted and worked for, allegedly raped her at The Veterans of Foreign Wars office in Questa.
The victim's mother and father also took the stand, explaining why they didn't report the incident until November 2016, a decision they based largely on their daughter's feeling of embarassment and her desire to avoid publicity.
Her mother's decision to eventually contact police led to an investigation and the eventual filing of charges against Rael, including two counts of criminal sexual penetration; three counts of criminal sexual contact; bribery of a witness; and false imprisonment.
Two of those charges, including one count of criminal sexual penetration and false imprisonment, were dropped during trial this week.
The victim's parents said they chose to come forward because of disturbing changes in their daughter's behavior they noticed in the months after the alleged rape.
On the witness stand, the Questa couple said their daughter had become distraught, troubled by nightmares and "flashbacks." They said she had begun using marijuana and electronic cigarettes, habits that led to her eventual suspension from sports at Questa High School, where she had excelled in track and cheerleading.
Rael's defense attorney, Alan Maestas, attempted to pick apart each piece of the family's testimony, highlighting the absence of DNA evidence, due to the fact the victim had burnt clothes she had been wearing during the alleged rape. He also noted that data was missing from the victim's phone. The victim admitted in court that she had wiped the phone sometime before it was released to a Taos County Sheriff's Detective for investigation.
Maestas also pointed to his client's willingness to take a polygraph test. After failing on a traditional test due to interruptions, including crying at one point during test, Rael was assessed with a version of lie detection that measures pupil dilation. The lesser-known method attempts to determine truthfulness by asking a series of questions varying between "neutral" questions, to ones pertaining to an investigation: had Rael had ever engaged in physical or sexual contact with the victim?
Rael passed the test, and Maestas would utilize this as a major crux in his defense.
During closing statements, Tim Hasson, prosecutor with the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office, reminded the jury that a polygraph expert brought in to testify had stated that lie detection is an inexact science. All methods have measurable fail rates, the expert said, as well as vulnerabilities that can allow a testee to mask the truth, such as counting backwards by sevens or biting their tounge.
Primarily though, Hasson's closing argument relied on the victim's story, the emotions the teen had clearly expressed in the courtroom as she recalled the alleged incident in explicit detail.
Hasson pointed to the fact that the victim had shared a "benificial" relationship with the defendant prior the incident in question. He reminded the jury that she had chosen to never seen Rael again after June 9, 2016.
"If she lied, she lied in some very interesting detail" Hasson said.
Maestas recounted each argument he had made during the trial, again pointing to the victim's decision to burn clothes she had been wearing during the alleged incident in a wood stove mid-summer; inconsistencies pertaining to the victim's purported communications with her family about what had happened; as well as slight shifts she had made in her account over the course of the case.
Lastly, Maestas said that a notebook the victim had kept and recorded the events of June 9 was missing.
"Three chunks of evidence: gone," Maestas said.
The jury was still out as of late Thursday afternoon.
For updates on the outcome of the trial, check back here at taosnews.com.
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