Questioning nearly results in mistrial for alleged Pentacrest rape case


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A line of questioning nearly led to a mistrial Thursday in the case against a former University of Iowa student accused of sexually assaulting a woman on the Pentacrest in October 2010.

Evan Pfeifer, 20, allegedly raped a woman on the west side of the Pentacrest in the early morning hours of Oct. 3, 2010. On Wednesday, the reported victim testified about the alleged incident, saying she was walking back to her room at Stanley Residence Hall when Pfeifer approached and eventually raped her.

On Thursday, Pfeifer’s attorney, Mark Brown, began to ask a witness — one of the reported victim’s friends — about the extent of his relationship with the accuser. The Daily Iowan does not publish information that could lead to the identification of reported victims of sexual assault.

Just as Brown appeared to be asking the witness whether he was “more than” friends with the alleged victim, assistant Johnson County prosecutor Anne Lahey objected. The two attorneys then approached 6th Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner, who asked the jury to leave the courtroom.

Turner decided Brown could continue his line of questioning for the record, but the jury could not be present. The witness then testified he and the accuser had sex before, and three weeks after, the alleged incident.

Then, for fewer than 10 minutes, the two sides presented their views on the line of questioning. Lahey characterized it as “very improper,” and said Brown was trying to “back door” a previous judge’s ruling on questions regarding the accuser’s relationships.

Lahey argued Brown violated “rape shield laws,” which protect alleged sexual assault victims from having to testify about their sexual history.

But Brown said the revelation should have been presented to the jury so he could respond to testimony from other witnesses who said the alleged victim was traumatized, including one who said she “looked like she had just gotten hit by a bus.”

“The reason why I developed this line of questioning outside of the jury is the simple fact the prosecution reports for day and a half about the alleged witnesses’ emotional state,” Brown said. “… It just seems like fair information for the jury, because [the alleged victim] was so emotionally traumatized … but when, in fact, three weeks later is having a relation with this gentleman, and what I think is critical is that they’re not dating, not engaged, not romantically involved beyond consensual sex.”

But Turner told Brown “we’re simply going to have to agree to disagree” about whether the questioning violated the previous ruling and shield laws. Turner also asked Brown to warn him if a similar line of questioning would ever been used again.

“Mr. Brown if you get into those areas again, please alert the court before you come within a country mile of waving distance,” Turner said.

One legal expert said the shield laws exist because defense lawyers used to “put the woman on trial.”
“A lot of blame was thrown on the woman based on her dress or behavior, and enough people thought that excused what the man did,” said Michael Fenner, a law professor at Creighton University. “Eventually, we became enlightened enough to see that rape is rape, no matter what she is wearing, how she is behaving, or if she is a virgin or not.”

Both sides presented their final witnesses Thursday; the trial will reconvene at 10 a.m. today, when the attorneys will present their closing arguments before the case is handed to the jury. Pfeifer faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

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