ODOR IN THE COURT

IT TOOK COURAGE FOR THE DEAF GIRL TO ALLEGE RAPE. SHE WAS REWARDED WITH AN UNPREPARED PROSECUTOR WHO BUNGLED THE CASE.

The teenager doesn't understand why the prosecution of her best friend's alleged rapist failed so miserably.

"It drove me crazy," says Sharon Singer. "I wanted to jump up in court and tell the jury, 'That guy forced her to have sex. She's just a kid. You've got to believe her!' But the prosecutor said he didn't need me. That was stupid. Why can't they start all over and do it better this time?"

Someone explains that you can't try someone twice for the same crime.
"But what if the man in charge [the prosecutor] doesn't get things right?" the 17-year-old counters. "Then what?"

It's a question many have asked since a jury acquitted Xavier Lance Skillman last November 23 of sexually assaulting and kidnaping a 16-year-old deaf girl, Kim Bradley. (Kim and Sharon, who is also deaf, have been given pseudonyms for this story.)

Skillman's acquittal has left Kim wondering why she ever came forward.
"I spoke up because I felt bad inside, and I didn't want to feel that way," Kim says through a sign-language interpreter. "It's like I didn't tell the truth or something."

But Skillman's acquittal alone isn't what infuriates so many people--jurors, a detective, the victim, her family and her friends.

It's why he was acquitted. It's how prosecutor John Beatty handled the case.

Public records and numerous interviews conducted by New Times reveal a disturbing theme: Beatty--an experienced prosecutor whose file contains many letters of commendation--was woefully unprepared to make the case against Skillman. Among Beatty's failings:

He didn't meet Kim Bradley until the day before Skillman's trial started. "That's absolutely against how we work in this office," Cindi Nannetti, Beatty's supervisor, says of his tardy attempt to build rapport.

He didn't know about Kim Bradley's friend Sharon until the day before the trial started, and then didn't even bother to speak with her. Sharon could have provided vital testimony about Kim's demeanor after the alleged rape.

He didn't seek an expert witness who could have shed light on Kim's behavior as a deaf person before, during and after the alleged assault.

He neglected to consult with an investigator from his office who instructs police on deaf culture and how it affects the criminal-justice system.

He told the jury that Kim had consented to sexual intercourse after Skillman kept insisting. But Kim never admitted the sex was consensual.

"Our burden was not to try the prosecutor's case for him," says Jim Brumfield, foreman of the 12-member jury that deliberated for two days before acquitting Skillman. (He faces another trial on January 31 on charges of sexually abusing five other young women and of kidnaping one of them. Skillman's attorney did not respond to requests for interviews.)

"This whole experience was painful and frustrating and tinged with sadness for me," says Brumfield. "I think Xavier is a very troubled young man. But with what was presented and the way it was presented, you start to ponder those two terrible words: reasonable doubt."

John Beatty describes himself as an overworked prosecutor who was misled by Skillman's attorney into believing the trial would be delayed. Because he got snookered, Beatty says, he was unable to complete his normal pretrial preparation. That's not how his supervisors at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office see it. On December 22, they placed a letter of reprimand in his file, citing many of the failures listed above. After signing the letter of reprimand, Beatty scribbled two lines: "By signing this letter, I merely acknowledge its existence. I do not agree with it, in substance nor essence."

However, in an interview last week, Beatty admitted that he bears the blame.

"There's too much Monday-morning quarterbacking going on," he says, "but, bottom line, I did not do as much as I could have done. I screwed up, and I feel terrible for the girl.

"Yes, I should have met with the victim sooner. Yes, I should have gotten an expert witness. Yes, I should have gotten together with the detective beforehand. Yes, I should have known about [Sharon]. But it wasn't supposed to go to trial when it did."

After the acquittal, two jurors were so frustrated by Beatty's effort that they arranged to meet with Bill Culbertson, division chief of the county attorney's special crimes unit. Culbertson already knew about the case. Even before the trial, Kim Bradley's father had complained to him about Beatty's lack of attentiveness.

"It's all confusing to me," says Bradley's father. "John has too many cases, but that's not my business. My business was making sure my daughter's case was given the attention it deserved. John's a nice guy, but he didn't do that. The result is that this lowlife Skillman gets to pull down his pants and moon the legal system."

The lead police investigator on the case is just as outspoken.
"It's so lousy," says Glendale detective Jan Whitson, who concedes that she deserves her share of the blame for what went wrong.

"The prosecutor had no idea how to deal with [Kim], because he never did his homework on deaf issues. He should be held accountable. We all should be. Now she's been victimized twice--first by Mr. Skillman and then in a courtroom . . . I cried after this case ended."

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