Jurors in De Anza rape civil case talk to ABC7

August 11, 2011 10:09:39 PM PDT
A civil case involving the so-called "De Anza" rape case in the South Bay played out earlier this year. Now the recently elected district attorney is reviewing evidence to determine if criminal charges will be filed against any of the young men in that incident. There was controversy and even public outrage when the previous district attorney decided not to prosecute the case. Wednesday night, ABC7 had an exclusive interview with the young woman at the center of the case. Thursday, ABC7 talks with jury members who found two of the former defendants, not liable in the civil case.

From the beginning, this was a very complex case because No. 1, drinking was involved and it was hard to identify who was in the bedroom where the sexual activity took place and to what extent they participated. Of the original 10 people accused in the civil complaint, nine were members of the De Anza College baseball team.

Before the civil trial began, a judge threw out allegations against two of the players. Then during trial, the young woman's attorneys dismissed their accusations against two others and entered into agreements with three ballplayers, which left only two of the ballplayers to face a civil jury's final decision.

Recently elected District Attorney Jeff Rosen has promised to announce by the end of September if his office will file criminal charges against any of the former defendants in this case. Because of the initial controversy in the former district attorney not filing charges, Rosen has promised to explain his decision to prosecute, or not to prosecute, in detail.

For years Jessica Gonzalez was known only as Jane Doe, the young woman at the center of the De Anza rape case. Without knowing her, the public debated her story: did she invite a group of young men to have sex with her at a drunken party or was the 17-year-old who loved playing softball nearly passed out while she was sexually violated?

"What those guys did was wrong and they got away with it; I wasn't going to let them do that," Gonzalez said.

Lives changed on March 3, 2007 when Gonzalez went to a party at a house near downtown San Jose. She accused 10 men of taking part in a gang rape; nine of them were members of the De Anza College baseball team.

"This was a 17-year-old girl who was obviously intoxicated to the point of being semi-comatose and she was closed in a bedroom," Gonzalez's attorney Barbara Spector said.

Defense attorneys argued from day one Gonzalez was not as drunk as she claimed and the sex and any other activity was 100 percent consensual.

"This wasn't anybody's finest moment; it was 20-year-old kids at a party and behaving the way 20-year-old kids behave at a party," defense attorney Alison Crane said.

Earlier this year a civil case, not a criminal case, went before a jury.

"People that think we just have let these awful boys off the hook, it's not the case," former civil juror Susan Bothwell said.

The jury hearing the evidence was made up of six men and six women representing a wide range of ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. ABC7 was able to sit down and talk at length with half of the jurors: four women and two men. Three of them agreed to appear on camera for this story.

The jurors deliberated for four days and say they agonized trying to find the truth.

"Unless we had a bird's eye camera view of what happened there is no way to prove from different people's testimonies what actually happened," Bothwell said.

None of the former defendants accepted ABC7's request for an interview and many of them took the fifth during trial, deciding not to testify. Jessica testified but she told the jury, what she told ABC7 -- she remembers nothing.

"From the testimony we got, was that there was no memory, obviously makes that another piece that's really difficult," former civil juror Adrienne Burns said.

The jurors say Gonzalez's blood alcohol level was critical in determining if she willingly took part in the sexual activity. They had to weigh different expert testimony about how hard and how fast the vodka shots hit her system. They determined she was drunk, but not passed out.

"We used different kinds of methodologies to decipher through the information, to look at all the pieces and parts of the evidence and to be clear about the decision that we made," former jury foreperson Percenel Jones said.

Defense attorneys also tried to show Gonzalez was not devastated by what happened. They revealed Facebook photos posted less than a year after the event, some too graphic for ABC7 to show. Gonzalez was shown partying in Nebraska, where she had moved, even offering up drinks in her cleavage.

ABC7: "How could you put yourself in another situation, not that it was the same situation but drink to excess and kind of exhibit the behavior they can point to, knowing what you have been though?"

Gonzalez: "How do you deal with it? How do you deal with something like this? I still don't know I'm trying to move on but how do you deal with something like this. I don't think anyone has an idea."

The jurors say the pictures had no impact on their deliberations because they focused on what happened the night in question.

"It didn't shock me, it didn't have any bearing on any part of the decision that I made myself, personally," Burns said.

The jury also had to deal with a changing cast of defendants. Before trial, a judge threw out the allegations against two of the ballplayers; during trial, Gonzalez's attorney's dismissed the cases against another two and entered into settlement agreements with three ballplayers accused of the most serious allegations of rape.

After those settlements and dismissals, jurors were left to decide the fate of just two ballplayers; the first person Gonzalez had any sexual contact with and another accused of negligence for not helping her.

The jury found both men not liable on all counts.

"Had we had other people to work with, maybe we would have had a different view, because as her blood alcohol went up, more and more people were in the room," Bothwell said.

The votes were not all unanimous; in a civil case they do not have to be. At the end of the day, the jury says it followed the law to reach decisions that were difficult but based on the evidence before them. The jury says it took to heart the judge's orders that if the answer was maybe, it had to be no.

"These are lives of people we're taking into our hands, so not knowing is not OK," Jones said. "If it's not clarity then you must show that the plaintiff has not met their burden of proof."

Gonzalez has returned to San Jose to be near her family and raise her 2-year-old boy as a single mother. She says she is disappointed with the outcome of the civil trial but has no regrets.

"To feel like I lost, I don't feel like I lost, because I'm not afraid anymore, I didn't run and for the rest of my life, I will know that I did everything I could," she said.

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