A deadlocked jury prompted a judge to declare a mistrial Tuesday in San Diego in the case of a former U.S. Navy commander accused of trying to rape a Navy colleague.
The mistrial was announced after the jury came back with a vote of 11 to 1 to convict John M. Neuhart II of assault with intent to commit rape during a burglary and attempted forcible rape.
Neuhart will appear in court again on Dec. 20 to determine if there will be a new trial.
During the trial, jurors heard a recording of the alleged victim repeatedly and loudly telling the defendant "no," "stop" and "get off me."
"This was about rape, power, and what he thought was (the alleged victim’s) submissiveness," prosecutor Jennifer Tag told the jury in closing arguments last week. "But she did say 'No.' She did fight back. She did scream as if she was being murdered in her own house."
The alleged victim is a Navy lieutenant, who was once under Neuhart's command in a helicopter squadron. Neuhart has said he was trying to get the woman, identified as "Kristin B.," to agree to sex even though she was so drunk she fell off a bar stool, could not walk straight and was slurring her words.
A key piece of evidence in the case is video from Neuhart’s phone that captured the incident at the woman’s Valencia Park home on Sept. 12, 2016.
The prosecutor acknowledged that Kristin B. had been drinking with Neuhart earlier at the rooftop bar at the downtown Manchester Grand Hyatt. But the prosecutor reminded jurors that, "There’s no consent if someone’s drunk. There’s no consent if someone’s saying no."
She urged jurors not to focus on the victim’s actions, including portions of a hotel surveillance video that the defense said shows the woman kissing and embracing Neuhart. The prosecutor reminded jurors that Neuhart, not the alleged victim, is the one on trial.
"Rape victims are always questioned," the prosecutor said. "Why? They shouldn’t be. We have to focus on the defendant, and what he did. Because he’s the one who’s doing what’s illegal."
She also denounced attacks on the alleged victim’s credibility by the defense as, "Literally the worst case of victim-blaming I’ve ever seen."
Defense attorney Kerry Armstrong reminded jurors that the alleged victim has made inconsistent statements about what happened before and during the alleged sexual assault.
He said the hotel surveillance video showed that Kristin and Neuhart were "…kissing, hugging and carrying on like a couple" in the hours before they went to the alleged victim’s home. In his closing argument, Armstrong said the alleged victim had many opportunities to get away from Neuhart at the bar, in the ride to her home and at her home.
Armstrong also focused on what he said was the prosecution’s failure to prove that Neuhart had any intent to rape the alleged victim.
He urged jurors to review the hotel surveillance video and the cell phone video that the defendant recorded at the alleged victim’s home.
"There’s bizarre behavior… but there’s insufficient proof, especially beyond a reasonable doubt, that he intended to commit rape," Armstrong said.
Armstrong acknowledged that the jurors might not like how Neuhart acted that night, or how he may have used his rank to intimidate Kristin. But Armstrong told jurors,"You don’t have to like him. You don’t have to hug him in the hallway. But please, don’t make a rash decision. There’s no shame in acquitting Mr. Neuhart."
Later Tuesday, Armstrong released the following statement about the mistrial declaration:
“I have mixed feelings about the result. I obviously wanted not-guilty verdicts across the board, but I am also relieved that the jury did not convict Commander Neuhart of any crimes. I appreciate the lone juror who held out and voted not-guilty on the most serious counts. This was a very difficult trial for everyone, and I am hopeful that we eventually get the result that we want. As for Commander Neuhart, he does not wish to make a statement at this time."
The video Neuhart shot on his cell phone was a key part of the evidence in the case, and a focal point of the prosecutor’s closing argument. Tag played a tightly edited version of the tape in her rebuttal, in which jurors heard Kristin tell Neuhart 90 times to stop trying to have sex with her.
During the trial, Neuhart, who testified in his own defense, said he shot the video because he wanted proof that any sexual activity was consensual. He said such a recording would provide him with evidence that he did not assault the alleged victim, and protect him from repercussions to his military career.
But the prosecutor said Neuhart videotaped the encounter because he wanted a record of what he thought would be a sexual conquest.
"This video was a trophy," the prosecutor told jurors. "He took it so he could look at it later."