Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 26, 2014

Basu: Washington County attorney's actions were halfhearted — at best

Prosecutor focused on victim's immigration status, not rape
By Rekha Basu | Feb 01, 2013

What does it say if a jury asks for permission to tell the court it actually believed a defendant it is acquitting of rape was guilty — and a juror weeps as the verdict is read?

One thing it might say is that the prosecutor didn’t do a convincing job of prosecuting, even in the face of good evidence. And that’s after he dragged his feet in even getting the case to court.

Last October, I reported on Martin Medrano, an undocumented immigrant who alleged he was brutally and repeated raped by a fellow inmate while at the Washington County Jail in July 2011. He said the rapes were oral, anal and digital and included a pencil being shoved into his penis, and his testicles squeezed so hard he lost consciousness. He said the perpetrator threatened to have him killed if he told anyone.

Though it had been over a year since Medrano reported a crime and DNA samples taken from his alleged rapist matched those found in his underwear, Washington County Attorney Larry Brock had balked about bringing the case to trial.  He said he had filed charges against the accused inmate, Rudolph Edwards, a month after Medrano reported the incidents, but hadn’t served papers on him.

“An incident did occur,” Brock told me. “Whether it rose to a criminal offense, there is some doubt.” Asked why, he said Edwards claimed it was consensual. He also said that Medrano’s behavior since he got out of jail has “raised issues.”

That’s quite different from the certainty Brock exhibited for jurors at the trial, which ended Jan. 25 with a not-guilty verdict. But he may have already muddied the waters.

The case came to my attention because Brock and Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar were refusing to sign a federal form certifying that Medrano had alleged a crime, entitling him to apply for a special U visa. Brock’s statement to me — “If he’s not here legally, that’s a crime in and of itself” — hinted at a political belief that undocumented immigrants are not entitled to justice. He said even if Medrano was raped, “This county is not going to give him legal status simply because of that.” It also raised questions about whether Brock was helping to cover up a violent act inside a jail.

After local media joined in questioning the failure to prosecute, a trial took place. There was testimony about video recordings at the jail showing Edwards entering Medrano’s cell multiple times, corroborating Medrano’s accounts. An investigator testified to taking pictures of an intercom in Medrano’s cell covered with a wet paper towel, which Medrano said Edwards had put there. A Spanish-speaking jailer testified she saw Medrano crying, and he told her he had been raped. She had him tell a deputy, and took a picture of an abrasion on his neck. She said after that night, Medrano stopped eating and spoke of hallucinations, leading to his transfer to another jail.

In a videotaped interrogation the jury saw, Edwards admitted to performing sex acts on Medrano but claimed they were consensual. A juror said he wasn’t believable.

Jurors were puzzled at hearing no testimony about Edwards’ matching DNA. That’s because Brock withdrew an application in November 2011 to get a swab from Edwards’ cheek. The matching sample came from a DCI lab specimen, which couldn’t be used in court.

Jurors also heard no testimony from sex-abuse experts as to why there may be delayed memories and an absence of severe physical injury — as noted in a doctor’s report. Nor did they hear from University of Iowa Hospitals, where Martin subsequently was on an IV after losing 20 pounds.

Some of this information came to me from Roger Farmer, a pastoral counselor who began visiting Medrano in jail after reading my earlier column. After attending the entire trial, he said he found aspects of it troubling, including the weeping juror.

In an unusual move, jurors asked the judge for permission to make a statement in court saying a majority of them believed Edwards was guilty, but couldn’t say it was beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge said no, but the jury forewoman told the Washington Journal that she lost sleep over the case and that jurors are “struggling with the thought that a sexual assault occurred.”

Medrano is back in immigration custody, and his visa application is proceeding. Though Brock did finally prosecute the case, his earlier attempts to undermine it make it hardly surprising that jurors remain so doubtful and conflicted.

Was it because of ineptitude, because it was just an undocumented immigrant, or to avoid opening up a can of worms for the county? Could this happen again?

All in all, this disturbing episode is a clarion call for greater oversight of Washington County’s way of doing justice.

Copyright, printed with permission by The Des Moines Register

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