California man found not guilty in rape case

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Adam M Smith of Berkley, Calif., raises his hand to be sworn in to testify during his trial in Edgartown. - Rich Saltzberg

It took the jury only 90 minutes to decide the fate of Adam M. Smith on Friday in Dukes County Superior Court. The 29-year-old Californian was acquitted on charges of rape, indecent assault, and attempting to intimidate a witness stemming from an incident on Sept. 5, 2015, when a Boston woman alleged he sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her if she reported him to authorities.

“The jury worked hard and rendered a fair and just verdict,” Mr. Smith’s attorney J. Drew Segadelli said after the verdict.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Patterson declined to comment.

Friday marked the second time in three days that charges were reduced before the day’s proceedings began — the second count of rape against Mr. Smith was reduced to indecent assault before attorneys began their closing arguments.

Speaking to The Times on Wednesday, Tara Miltmore, a spokesman for Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, said the second count of rape was reduced to indecent assault after Mr. Segadelli filed a motion for required finding, stating the Commonwealth hadn’t presented sufficient evidence to merit the charge.

Mr. Smith took the stand on Thursday. He was the last of six witnesses and the only defense witness called. During questioning, Mr. Smith said he danced with the alleged victim at the Seafood Shanty, which included “a little bit of kissing.” He invited the woman and her two friends back to the house where he and his friends were staying in Katama. He testified that the woman suggested they go find a bed to lie down on and, subsequently, they went upstairs to a bedroom where he said they groped and kissed each other. “She seemed like she was relatively inebriated,” he stated, “but not falling over.” Shortly after, he said, “I proceeded to perform oral sex on her.” Mr. Smith said she began to cry and when he asked her what was the matter, she kept crying. He said he was “dumbfounded” by her reaction.

“She ever tell you no, stop it?” Mr. Segadelli asked. Mr. Smith said no, and denied holding her down or being kicked by her.

The woman’s previous testimony starkly differed. While confirming she willingly went upstairs with Mr. Smith and that she kissed him while the two sat on the bed, she said she slammed the brakes on when he attempted oral sex — pushing him away and repeating “No” and “Stop.”

She testified Mr. Smith pinned her hands above her head against the bed.

“I told him he was hurting me,” she said. Sometime afterwards she testified she inadvertently got trapped in a bathroom and heard Mr. Smith laugh and say that he would kill her if she spoke of the incident.

On Friday, closing arguments lasted an hour and 15 minutes.

The woman who accused Mr. Smith was in court supported by two people.

Mr. Smith’s parents and siblings again sat behind him. He sat impassively, with his hands folded on the table, as defense attorney Mr. Segadelli presented his closing argument.

Mr. Segadelli stressed that the burden of proof stood with the Commonwealth, and he hammered away at the inconsistency in testimony by the woman, recounting long gaps in her memory and a blood alcohol content over twice the legal limit. He also reminded the jury that she admitted to going to an upstairs bedroom with Mr. Smith shortly after getting to the house where he was staying with friends, after a night out on the town. She also admitted to smoking marijuana just after arriving at the house.

“There was no mistake where they were going,” Mr. Segadelli said. “There was no pulling or dragging.”

In a statement to emergency room nurse Carol Dumont hours after the alleged attack, the woman said Mr. Smith “made her go up the stairs.”

“That doesn’t have the ring of truth,” Mr. Segadelli said, using a phrase he would often repeat in his closing argument.

Mr. Segadelli also recounted the testimony of Bethany Herrema, a friend of the woman who was with her that night. In a written statement on Sept. 25 to Edgartown police, Ms. Herrema stated that she had told Mr. Smith to be safe and to use a condom, and that she had one if he needed it. “I assumed something sexual was going to happen,” she told the court on Wednesday, adding that the offer of a condom didn’t seem pertinent when she made out her first statement in 2015.

“Bethany agrees they’ve only been at the house 20 minutes, she sees nothing of intimacy, yet she turns into a condom dispensary?” Mr. Segadelli said. “What motivates a person to do that?”

While the woman alleged Mr. Smith forcefully held her down, Mr. Segadelli told jurors that a physical exam at the hospital that morning showed no marks on her body to support her claim.

Mr. Segadelli also attempted to discredit the charge of intimidating a witness, saying the alleged victim didn’t tell the police about it in her initial statement and that by the time police and EMTs arrived that night, she was so incoherent, she thought they were imposters.

“Does this jive with common sense?” he said.

The forensic evidence shows traces of Mr. Smith’s saliva in the alleged victims vagina, but no seminal fluids anywhere, which, Mr. Segadelli said,  supports Mr. Smith’s version of the events. “He told police he initiated oral sex, and the evidence proves it,” he said.

Mr. Segadelli concluded by telling the jury that they couldn’t vote to convict on “strong probability,” rather, “You have to come to a moral certainty. That’s the hurdle in evaluating this evidence.”

In his closing argument, Mr. Patterson stressed to the jury that “beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all possible doubt.”

Mr. Patterson also asked jurors to use their common sense.  

“Inconsistency in itself doesn’t mean someone was lying,” he said.

Mr. Patterson asked jurors to consider the alleged victim’s clear dismay on the witness stand when she was shown photos of the room where the alleged attack took place.

Seeking to counter Mr. Segadelli’s argument that the alleged victim was too impaired to provide reliable testimony, he cited the report written by nurse Dumont, which stated she didn’t think the woman was necessarily drunk but “upset and tearful.”

Mr. Patterson also referred to the hospital report, which said there was swelling and redness in the vaginal area. “Is that consistent with oral sex or consistent with penetration?” he said.

Mr. Patterson tried to paint the woman’s friend Bethany as quixotic. “She sees the world through her own lens . . . she jumps to big conclusions,” he said.

Again, appealing to jurors’ common sense, Mr. Patterson asked why a woman would go from smiling and happy the entire night, to inconsolable.

“Why was she hysterical after 15, 20 minutes upstairs? What happened in that bedroom that caused her to go from happy to the condition she was in when the police and nurse saw her . . . which series of events comports with your common sense that causes her to go from A to Z?”

Somewhat fittingly, closing arguments ended with yet another sidebar.

“Don’t hold it against [the attorneys] if a question has not been as tidy as it should be, or for objecting forcefully, or taking me to sidebar an unusual amount of times,” Judge Nickerson instructed the jury. He urged jurors to do their best to keep human emotions out of the jury room and to focus on the evidence. “Stick to the evidence and you will return a just verdict,” he said.

Judge Nickerson reminded the jury that “the presumption of innocence is fundamental.”

He also echoed Mr. Patterson, stating “Beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean beyond all possible doubt. It is not enough that there is a strong possibility he’s more likely to be guilty, it must be reasonable and moral certainty.”