BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, NEWS EDITOR
The Oxford man convicted of four counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct for attacking a woman at Boyne Mountain in December of 2012 will not get a new trial.
In a Nov. 10 opinion released by the Michigan Court of Appeals, Justices Michael F. Gadola, Joel P. Hoekstra and Michael J. Kelly state that rapist Jesse Louis Royster will have to serve his sentence of between six and 15 years as was determined by the Charlevoix 33rd Circuit Court in April of 2014.
According to court documents:
After encountering complainant at a dance club, defendant’s friends invited her and her friend to defendant’s bachelor party at a condominium.
Complainant and her friend arrived at around 2:30 a.m.
Complainant maintained that, after she used the bathroom in the master bedroom, she emerged to find defendant by the bathroom door and the doors to the bedroom closed.
She testified that defendant then pushed her onto the bed and sexually assaulted her.
Royster testified that the encounter was consensual.
Admission of testimony
Royster first argued that the victim’s statements, admitted through the testimony of the sexual assault nurse examiner Stephanie Allers were inadmissible hearsay.
According to the appeals court, which quoted the Michigan Rules of Evidence guidelines, a hearsay exception is provided for, “[s]tatements made for purposes of medical treatment or medical diagnosis in connection with treatment and describing medical history, or past or present symptoms, pain, or sensations, or the inception or general character of the cause or external source thereof insofar as reasonably necessary to such diagnosis and treatment.”
“(Royster) argues that Allers should not have been allowed to testify regarding the complainant’s description of the immediate circumstances surrounding the assault. Specifically, defendant argues that MRE 803(4) only allows hearsay statements that identify the perpetrator of a sexual assault, rather than a general description of the assault,” the justices wrote. “To the contrary, MRE 803(4) provides an exception for all statements describing the ’cause or external source’ of a medical condition insofar as the statements are reasonably necessary for diagnosis or treatment. Particularly in cases of sexual assault where injuries might be latent, ‘a victim’s complete history and a recitation of the totality of the circumstances of the assault are properly considered to be statements made for medical treatment.’”
According to the appeals court, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Allers to testify about complainant’s description of the assault.
“Moreover, the statements were cumulative of complainant’s trial testimony, and were therefore harmless,” the justices stated.
Abuse of discretion?
Royster also claimed that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing Allers to testify that the victim’s description of the assault was credible.
“Matters of credibility fall within the province of the jury, so it is generally improper for a witness to provide an opinion on the credibility of another witness,” justices wrote. “In this case, Allers did not testify that complainant provided credible testimony. Rather, she stated that, based on the physical examination and her experience examining sexual assault victims, her medical findings were consistent with complainant’s description of the assault. This testimony did not constitute improper vouching for the veracity of complainant, so the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the testimony.”
DNA evidence irrelevant?
Royster then argued that the trial court erred when it admitted DNA evidence, citing it as irrelevant.
“At trial, Michigan State Police serology (study and diagnostic examination of blood serum) expert Jennifer Patchin testified that she found evidence of seminal fluid and saliva on samples from complainant’s vulva and underwear.”
At trial, DNA evidence was produced that claimed Royster’s DNA matched that in the victim’s underwear but that Royster did not object to the evidence during the trial.
“Reversal is warranted only if the plain error resulted in the conviction of an innocent defendant or seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the proceedings,” the justices wrote. “Evidence is relevant if it has ‘any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.’”
The appeals court further stated, “Defendant argues that the DNA evidence was irrelevant because he admitted that he engaged in intercourse with complainant, so the only issue in dispute was consent.”
However, the justices wrote, “[A]n element of CSC III is sexual penetration … and the prosecutor was ‘required to prove each element of [the] charged offense regardless of whether the defendant specifically disputes or offers to stipulate any of the elements.’”
Further, they stated, “Although defendant did not contest that he engaged in sexual relations with complainant, the prosecution was not relieved of its duty to prove all of the elements of CSC III. The DNA evidence was helpful to meet this burden. Defendant also argues that the DNA evidence was unfairly prejudicial because the jury would assign disproportionate weight to scientific evidence. However, the scientific evidence supported that defendant was sexually involved with complainant,which he admitted.”
The appeals court found that Royster could not show how introduction of DNA evidence was erroneous or affected his rights.
The center of Royster’s first appeal relied on the admission of one of the jurors in his case that they had researched potential sentences for his case during the trial.
Royster argued the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a new trial and by failing to declare a mistrial due to juror misconduct.
“In a letter to the trial judge, Juror No. 8 stated that he was the lone juror that required convincing to convict defendant and that he felt bullied to change his verdict,” the justices wrote. “Defense counsel stated in an affidavit that the jury foreman told him Juror No. 8 had researched penalties for the charged crimes on the internet and said that he could not allow defendant to serve the projected sentence. Counsel believed that Juror No. 8 only changed his vote due to peer pressure and fear that the other jurors would inform the judge of his behavior. Following a hearing, the trial court denied defendant’s motion for a new trial.”
They further wrote, “[D]efendant cannot demonstrate that the sentencing information adversely influenced the verdict because Juror No. 8 presented it in an effort to influence a verdict of not guilty. Moreover, several jurors testified that they stopped discussion of the information because it was extraneous. They said they discussed the evidence presented at trial to reach their verdict on count four.”
The appeals court says there is no evidence to support Royster’s claim that juror eight was threatened or coerced into changing his vote.
Royster also claimed the trial court should have declared a mistrial because one of the jurors asked the judge a question about the victim’s ex-boyfriend.
The appeals court said it was not cause for a mistrial to be declared.
Ineffective legal counsel?
Lastly, Royster claimed that his legal defense was ineffective.
“Defendant alleges 10 instances of deficient performance by his trial counsel,” wrote the justices, who added that Royster did not demonstrate a deficient performance by his legal counsel.