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ODOR IN THE COURT

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Xavier Skillman denied everything after Glendale police arrested him on suspicion of raping Kim Bradley.

He told detective Whitson he hadn't had sex that day, hadn't even left his house, and didn't know his alleged victim.

Skillman was booked into the county jail--without bond.
That night, police executed a warrant and searched the Skillman residence. It appeared much the same as Kim Bradley had described it. Investigators also found a note in Kim's handwriting, which refuted his claim that he didn't know her.

On July 27, 1994, a grand jury indicted Skillman on three new felony charges--two for sexual assault and one for kidnaping. Like the earlier case involving the young women, it was assigned to deputy county attorney John Beatty.

Prosecuting sex crimes is not for the weak of heart. To a person, the ten deputy county attorneys who work such crimes put in endless hours, on rugged, gut-wrenching cases.

John Beatty was a very busy man in 1994. He went to trial more than any of his peers in the sex-crimes unit, finishing with eight guilty verdicts, three not guilty and one hung jury.

He also earned letters of commendation for his rapport with victims and their families.

"I hope that this case will inspire you to go forward with renewed energy," the mother of a rape victim wrote Beatty last May.

Such recognition makes Beatty's failures in the Xavier Skillman case even more puzzling.

"I have to take some of the responsibility for what happened," says sex-crimes bureau chief Cindi Nannetti. "He's a very good worker, absolutely dedicated. And though his case load is very heavy, I've detected no sign of burnout in him. But in hindsight, I should have discussed his case load with him more carefully."

Beatty realized that Skillman's defense would be that she had consented to sex. But one-on-one "acquaintance rape" cases often are uphill struggles for prosecutors: Kim had gone to Skillman's house willingly. And a medical exam had revealed few signs of trauma.

To obtain a conviction, Beatty had to prove that just because Kim had gone with Skillman willingly, it didn't mean she'd gone there for sex.

The prosecutor also had to give jurors a crash course in deaf issues, explaining factors beyond the disability itself that make deaf people different from their hearing counterparts.

For example, young deaf people often are more naive and trusting than others in their age group. Also, they are more blind to racial differences than the rest of the world: To the deaf, it's more apt to be the hearing and the nonhearing, not black and white.

But Beatty could never educate jurors about deaf culture, because he never educated himself.

He could have called the state Council for the Hearing Impaired, which routinely provides valuable information on such matters.

If that was too much, a veteran investigator who works on the same floor as Beatty gladly would have briefed him. The investigator is known as an expert in how to deal with the deaf in the criminal-justice system.

Perhaps most important, the prosecutor made no effort to connect with Kim Bradley and her family, even as the trial date approached. Prosecutors don't like to question victims extensively before trial, because they don't want opposing counsel to accuse them of "sandpapering" a witness.

But Kim Bradley's parents wanted to meet the man who would prosecute Skillman. Building rapport, especially with a handicapped teen who was frightened about her pending courtroom ordeal, should have been a priority.

The parents say they first made their feelings known to a victim-witness advocate from the County Attorney's Office who visited Kim at home. But the request went unfulfilled.

"I know prosecutors are busy," Kim's father says, "but one little call back to reassure us that he was thinking about my kid's case would have been fine. [Kim] basically wanted to know: Is he gonna be nice to me?"

That's one way of putting it. Another way is how Beatty's supervisors put it after Skillman's acquittal.

"This victim is a special-needs child who has difficulty communicating," Beatty's letter of reprimand states. "It is essential that more time be spent with victims like her to assist in our collective quest for justice. The failure to meet with this victim in a timely manner and to interview and prepare her is unacceptable and impermissible."

Beatty says he was swamped with more pressing cases. He had several other trials tentatively scheduled to start in the same week as the Skillman case.

"I was concentrating on what I had to concentrate on," he says. "I just don't have time to be meeting with victims months before, even if I'd like to. And in this case, I expected Skillman to accept a plea offer that was on the table."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin