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.

But there were problems with Kim's testimony. If Beatty had done his homework, he might have known to keep his questions to the girl as simple as possible. But many of his complex queries--filtered through an interpreter--seemed to confuse Kim. She seemed unsure of many of her answers.

Reginald Cooke had a daunting task in his cross-examination of Kim. He couldn't come down too hard on a young deaf girl, but he had to show the jury that this case was about consent, not coercion.

Cooke focused on contradictions between Kim's police interviews and her trial testimony. Kim testified there had been blood in her vagina after Skillman finished with her. But she hadn't told the police that, Cooke pointed out.

"I think I did," the rattled teen said. But she hadn't.
"You wrote a note to [Xavier] saying, 'You took my virginity, but that's okay,'" Cooke continued.

"I can't remember," Kim replied. Actually, the police had found no such note during their search of Skillman's home, and Cooke didn't produce one. But without Kim's direct disavowal, Cooke had planted a seed of doubt with the jury.

Cooke also made points when he asked Kim what she'd told police the day after the incident. During an initial, untaped interview, she apparently told detectives she "ran out" of Skillman's house.

Kim testified that she didn't recall saying that, and that it wasn't true.
To some jurors, this was a moment in the trial when the words "reasonable doubt" first popped into their heads.

But if John Beatty had spoken with any experts on deaf issues, he would have learned a possibly pivotal fact. The sign for "run" is very similar to the sign for "walk." It's quite possible, a certified interpreter tells New Times, that the police interpreter misread the girl's gesture.

Instead, the jury was left with the impression that Kim's story was inconsistent in key areas.

Kim finally left the stand after testifying for hours. Beatty then presented testimony by police detectives and a doctor.

Jan Whitson told the jurors how Skillman had lied to her about not knowing Kim. But she admitted she'd never heard about Sharon Singer until Kim mentioned her on the stand.

"We all wanted to know what the story with [Sharon] was," says juror Marc Slonim. "I mean, if [Kim] told her something right afterward, what was it? What was her mood like? Was she happy or sad? And why didn't the detective know about her? Was anyone hiding anything? That kind of stuff."

It's unusual for a defendant arguing "consent" in a sexual-assault case not to take the stand. But Reginald Cooke decided not to present any defense, hoping that the lack of evidence, other than Kim's inconsistent testimony, would sway the jury.

John Beatty's first of two closing arguments started out well.
"No means no," he told the jury. "She said no. You heard her say it with her voice. A deaf person said no. . . . She got herself into a situation that she could not control. And that's bad. But are you going to blame her for what he did, for taking advantage? He was a predator."

Then the prosecutor made a dreadful mistake.
"He didn't take no as an answer," Beatty continued. "He kept pushing and pushing. She just said, 'Fine. Okay.' This is after all this time."

That left a door wide open for Cooke to argue "consent" even more vigorously. In his closing argument, the defense attorney wisely dropped the white-girl-likes-black-guy theme he'd previewed in his opening statement.

"[It] is not an offense for a young man--a 19-year-old boy--to beg," Cooke said, "and for a woman, a young girl, to feel pressured. That is not a crime."

The jury began its deliberations. It quickly decided that Skillman was not guilty of kidnaping Kim Bradley. But it remained deadlocked for two days on the sexual assaults.

"It was down the middle," foreman Jim Brumfield says. "I was one of the ones for guilty. Then, slowly, we started edging toward reasonable doubt."

Juror Inez Vainauskas had similar misgivings. "You know in your heart that he did something wrong," says the Phoenix resident, "but in the eyes of the law, I started not to be so sure. We just needed a little more--something on being deaf, something from [Sharon]. It's sad."

Immediately after the acquittal, Jan Whitson recalls, John Beatty told her something she'll never forget.

"He told me, 'Jan, I let you down. I wasn't prepared,'" the detective says. "I said, 'You didn't let me down, John.'

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