Jury fails to reach verdict in rape case | SummitDaily.com

Jury fails to reach verdict in rape case

VERONICA WHITNEYeagle county correspondent
AP PhotoDistrict Attorney Mark Hurlbert, right, responds to questions about the arrest of Los Angeles Lakers' star Kobe Bryant during a news conference at the Eagle County Justice Center in Eagle last July. Three sexual assault trials in Eagle County in the last month have resulted in the jury did not voting to convict.

EAGLE – She said he raped her after a night out with friends in Vail. He said they had sex, but that it was consensual. On Thursday, an Eagle County jury couldn’t decide the truth of accusations that Christopher Harris raped a 23-year-old Vail woman after a night partying in Vail in September 2003.Harris, 30, a former resident of Vail who now lives in New Mexico, is charged with aggravated sexual assault, a class four felony, that could carry a sentence of life in prison.A source at the courthouse said the 12-person jury was split 8-4 to acquit.

“We haven’t lost this case,” District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, a Breckenridge resident, said. “We need to reevaluate, and see where we go.”Harris’ case was the third sexual assault trial in about a month in Eagle County in which the jury did not vote to convict. Alex Canales, an Avon man accused of rape, was acquitted May 26. Fabian Vazquez, a 24-year-old Gypsum man with cerebral palsy accused of attempted sexual assault on a child, was acquitted June 14 in his second trial, after his first ended with a hung jury.Though they haven’t got any convictions on sexual assault trials lately, Hurlbert said prosecutors are getting convictions through plea agreements.”About 90 percent of all cases end up pleading guilty,” Hurlbert said.

“It’s harder to get a conviction on a sexual assault trial than in most cases,” he added. “In sexual assault, there is the presumption that the victim isn’t telling the truth. That doesn’t happen with a theft case, for example.”The Harris case could be re-tried this year unless prosecutors reach an agreement with Harris’ defense attorney.”They have no case against me,” Harris said while he was waiting for the verdict. He’s free on a $7,500 bond.Harris, who testified Tuesday, spoke confidently about how the alleged victim, whose name is being withheld, went to his Vail home and agreed to have sex with him. But Deputy District Attorney Arly Miner said the woman was forced to have sex with Harris.

“Rape is an ugly word, but it happened to (the woman),” Miner said in her closing argument. “No means no.” A witness who was Harris’ roommate at the time of the alleged incident testified that he saw Harris come to the house with the alleged victim, but never heard any screams or signs of violence that night.But Hurlbert said there doesn’t have to be vaginal tearing or bruises for there to be a sexual assault. “There could be a rape without any signs of violence,” he said. “Sometimes, women are so afraid a person will hurt them, they don’t scream.”Veronica Whitney can be contacted at (970) 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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