by Joanna Kwong
Judge Maguire declared a mistrial late Friday morning after the 12 jurors were unable to come to a unanimous decision on Count 1 of the Willie Nelson case. Jury deliberations began yesterday afternoon, and the jurors were split 10-2, for acquittal and conviction respectively. The jurors were ultimately unable to come to an agreement on Nelson’s intent for Count 1 of sexual battery, when he was accused of inappropriately “touching” a woman while he was helping to buckle her into a ride at the Yolo County Fair.
Judge Maguire also asked the jurors if clarification on jury instructions or further closing arguments would help them to reach a unanimous verdict. None of the jurors believed either of the two would help to sway their decision.
Possible Retrial for Nelson After Jury Deadlocks Over Matter of Intent
by Marisa McCune
In the misdemeanor sexual battery case against Willie Lawrence Nelson, the jury deadlocked over whether Nelson’s actions were intentional or accidental.
In Friday’s afternoon session, Judge Daniel P. Maguire initially dismissed the charges against Nelson, but later determined that he would consider the State’s request for a retrial if the prosecution can produce additional evidence, specifically with regard to Nelson’s intent.
Nelson, who worked at the Yolo County Fair in 2015, was charged with sexual battery after a woman claimed he touched her in the vaginal area while assisting her in buckling her seat belt for a ride.
Nelson claims the touching was accidental, but he made inconsistent statements about where he touched her body when discussing the incident with police.
During the trial, questions emerged surrounding Nelson allowing the alleged victim onto the ride for free, as well as his job training regarding his employer’s “no touch policy” during the seat-belting phase of the ride. In addition, when Nelson was confronted by the alleged victim and her aunt immediately following the incident, Nelson ran from the scene to an employee housing area due to, he claimed, fear of violence.
When Nelson testified, he stated that the alleged victim’s aunt made threats and erroneous allegations about what occurred on the ride and that he was later assaulted by a fair manager when he tried to explain what happened.
Deputy District Attorney Shelby Doyle wants a retrial, saying that there may be additional evidence with regard to Nelson’s intent.
According to the prosecution, a female fair employee accused Nelson of exposing himself to her in a hotel room, then blocking the room’s exit and locking the door.
It is alleged that Nelson said this incident was also accidental.
Deputy Public Defender Aram Davtyan stated that the court already ruled on the matter of admissibility of this evidence, finding a lack of similarity between the fair incident and the alleged hotel room incident.
Judge Maguire agreed to a possible retrial if the State can find “different or more evidence” with regard to the alleged events in the hotel room.
The State contends that the hotel room incident may be as serious as attempted rape. The judge responded to this allegation by saying that the court needs the facts.
Judge Maguire said that the matter that troubled him was whether Nelson’s claims of being beaten up after the incident were investigated.
The State responded that “there is no evidence” of an attack on Nelson after the ride event. According to the prosecution, the videotaped police interrogation, which occurred after Nelson’s arrest, shows no sign that Nelson was assaulted.
Per DDA Doyle’s discussion with jurors, the jury deadlocked on intent, which she said was expected during the trial and which was discussed at length during closing arguments.
Doyle is working with Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Hoyt to reach the alleged hotel room complainant. The State claims that an interpreter is required as well as additional information to properly identify who she is and where she is currently located.
According to the prosecution, the jury also questioned where and how the ride’s seat belt was positioned on the alleged victim. Doyle claims she can easily obtain photos of where and how the seat belts are positioned on that ride.
The defense stated that any evidence about the seat belt’s possible positioning “would not be fruitful.”
The defense said it would be inconvenient and costly for the defendant to return to California for additional hearings or a retrial. Nelson lives in Springfield, Missouri, and works at a fast food restaurant, thus traveling to and from California imposes an economic hardship on him.
Deputy Public Defender Davtyan went on to say that both sides agree there was consent to touch the alleged victim and that the matter being disputed was whether he “touched her there.”
Judge Maguire said that, without additional evidence, he will dismiss the case because the result of a second trial will be the same as the first.
The judge said there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Nelson’s actions were intentional.
Judge Maguire is giving the prosecution time to find the other possible complaining party. He will allow a retrial of the case if she can be found and is willing to testify.
The defense said they would argue inadmissibility of any evidence obtained from this possible complainant.
An early disposition conference is set for February 18, 2016. The prosecution will report on whether or not the State was able to find the alleged second complainant. At that time, the court will discuss the defense’s issues concerning California Evidence Code sections 1108 and 1101(b). Section 1108 pertains to admissibility of previous sexual offenses when the accused faces a sexual offense, and section 1101(b) is relevant to admissibility of evidence to prove a fact – in this case, intent.
If the State is unable to produce the alleged hotel room complainant, the judge advised that he will dismiss the case. If the State needs more time to gather evidence, the court will consider the State’s request for more time.
Closing Arguments in Trial of Man of Improperly Touching Woman at Fair
By Monica Velez
Closing arguments began in the afternoon on February 4, 2016, for the sexual battery charge against defendant Willie Lawrence Nelson. Nelson was accused of inappropriately touching the alleged victim at the Yolo County Fair, where he was working.
Deputy District Attorney Shelby Doyle started off by saying “carnivals are supposed to be fun.” The alleged victim took her son to the fair, along with her aunt and some cousins, and bought some tickets to go on rides.
The alleged victim took her son on the Toon Town Train ride, where Nelson was working, and she buckled him on, not planning on going on herself. Nelson asked her if she wanted to go on the ride too and the alleged victim said not if she had to use more tickets, because she did not want to waste her son’s tickets on herself.
Nelson said she could go on for free, and so the alleged victim joined her son, up until she had a problem figuring out the seat belt. Doyle explained that this is when events took a turn for the worse. Nelson, attempting to help her buckle her seat belt, reached over the alleged victim’s body and rubbed her vagina with his thumb, the spot right below the zipper on her jean shorts.
The three points Doyle was attempting to prove in her case, that would lead to a guilty verdict of sexual battery, was that the defendant touched an intimate part of the alleged victim, the touching was done against her will, and the touching was done for a specific purpose of sexual arousal, gratification or abuse.
Doyle argued that it was not an accident like Nelson repeatedly said because, going from her waist, where the seat belt should go, to under her front zipper is too large of a gap. Doyle argued that the nature of the touch was not a brush but a grab, and pointed out that the defendant used the word “grab” in the video of his interview with a detective that was shown in court.
“People don’t say things like grab […] that’s not an accidental touch,” said Doyle.
In the interview that was shown in court, Doyle pointed out that Nelson had a lot of contradictory statements and excuses for why he ran away from the alleged victim and her aunt instead of taking them to see a supervisor when they asked him to do so.
In the interview, at first Doyle said that he did not touch her, then he said that maybe the buckle touched her and then he said maybe his knuckles touched her. Nelson then explained that he touched her around the stomach, then said it might have been around her waist area, and he finally said he grabbed her around her thigh area.
Doyle’s argument was that the contradictory statements and the changes in his story show unreliablity, so all that we are left with is the alleged victim’s word, that she was touched in an inappropriate place and that it made her feel violated.
“He (Nelson) was changing his story on the fly, and I think that is obvious,” said Doyle.
The next piece of evidence Doyle showed was a map of the fair. She pointed out where Nelson started, at the Toon Town ride, and went through the path he took to his next destination, the bunkers (where the employees reside).
She pointed out the security trailers that were set up and the supervisor’s trailer that he passed along the way, and argued that he chose not to stop there even though they would have been the best places to get help, assuming that Nelson was actually afraid, like he said.
“This is the path of a guilty man running,” said Doyle.
Deputy Public Defender Aram Davtyan pointed out that when the alleged victim and her aunt asked him to take them to a manager, her aunt started yelling that Nelson was a “mother f–” and a pedophile and not to let kids go on the ride. She then stated that she was going to get somebody to beat him up.
Davtyan argued that Nelson was running to his bunker because it was the one place he would feel safe, because he was thinking somebody was going to beat him up, and at the time another fair employee was chasing him. The defense argued that it was not unreasonable, like the prosecutor said, to walk away from security and supervisor trailers when thinking somebody was going to hurt you.
Right when the alleged victim felt his touch she pushed him away and said that he started apologizing, saying that it was an accident, that he was sorry and that he didn’t mean for that to happen.
“Nobody’s been listening to Mr. Nelson so far, and that’s why we are here,” said Davtyan.
In Doyle’s argument, she explained that Nelson has given free rides in the past, “I imagine especially for cute girls,” said Doyle.
Davtyan attacked Doyle’s statement, saying that it was a sexist argument because Nelson had given free rides to younger males as well, not just “cute girls,” especially since Nelson had originally thought the alleged victim was a “little girl.”
Davtyan also pointed out that Nelson could not have known that the alleged victim would need help putting on her seat belt, giving him an opportune moment to touch her if such were his intentions.
The alleged victim agreed to have help with her seat belt, and even though Nelson or any other employee is not supposed to touch anybody on a ride or help them put on their seat belt, Davtyan said Nelson wasn’t going to kick somebody off a ride for that reason – he was going to help whomever it was so they could enjoy the ride.
The paperwork of Nelson’s training, initialed by him, was also brought up in the trial, proving that he knew he was not supposed to assist or touch anybody riding the ride. Davtyan argued that Nelson did not even graduate high school let alone read paperwork or his workers’ manual, comparing him to the majority of people who just sign documents without fully reviewing them.
Davtyan started talking about the video that was shown in court of a detective interviewing Nelson about what happened that August night in 2015. The defense stressed to the jury the need to be objective because he believed that the detective did not believe anything Nelson was saying during the interview and that he was just trying to get to a confession.
He argued that, because the detective had seen the alleged victim crying and she was saying that she was touched inappropriately, the detective automatically assumed Nelson was guilty, not bothering to dip further into the investigation.
“Man, sir, if it sounded like a lie I’m sorry,” was the last statement Nelson said during his interview with the detective.
Davtyan brought up the fact that the only phone records shown in evidence were from Nelson’s supervisor, proving that Nelson did not try to contact him even though he said he did. Nelson did not have his supervisor’s contact saved in his phone, and he said that he tried to call his supervisor but accidentally called another number in his phone that had the same area code.
Davtyan argued that Nelson did everything in his power to solve the problem and, just because a girl was crying and because Nelson did not have his supervisor’s number saved, does not mean that he is guilty of sexual battery.
Davtyan stated that he does believe the alleged victim was telling the truth during her testimony, for the most part, and he understood why she felt uncomfortable, but there is not enough evidence to prove Nelson is guilty without reasonable doubt.
“Do not convict a slow kid just because he can’t explain himself properly,” said Davtyan.
With Doyle’s final rebuttal, she started off by stating there is nothing reasonable about a man touching a girl under her jean zipper without her permission. She argued that the alleged victim felt his thumb forcefully touching her, and that it does not take expert testimony for a person to tell if it was on purpose or not.
“The defendant can’t keep his lies straight,” said Doyle.
Doyle asked the jury who really has the reason to lie. She said it was not the alleged victim because she did not even know who Nelson is, and that, when Nelson saw the opportunity to commit sexual battery, he took it.
The jurors then went into deliberation.