At a two-day trial that concluded Wednesday, Jan. 28, John Luke Cassini, 19, was acquitted by Judge Karen Abrams of the rape charge but convicted of the sexual offense charge. Cassini lived in Mechanicsville at the time of the incident but has since moved to Mt. Airy in Carroll County.
After the state’s case was put on by prosecutor Julie White, Cassini’s attorney Brian Thompson of Baltimore made a motion for a judgment of acquittal. Judge Abrams ruled in the defendant’s favor on the rape charge because of lack of evidence.
Part of the evidence that was lacking included a “rape kit” obtained by nurses at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, DNA samples and clothing from the victim and the accused. While testifying, St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Thomas Hedderich revealed that none of the tests had been performed. He said he didn’t know whether he failed to submit the evidence for testing or if he had submitted it and it was lost. “I made a mistake. Maybe I forgot,” Hedderich said.
Hedderich’s’ two taped interviews of Cassini were played for Judge Abrams. In the interviews Cassini continued to swear that he never raped the woman, who was 19 at the time. Cassini told Hedderich that the girl had come to the party with her boyfriend but over time started flirting with him and he thought she was showing an interest.
Contradictory to this, there was also testimony that the alleged flirting didn’t happen and the victim had to be taken away from Cassini. The victim had to go to another area of the home because Cassini’s advances were getting out of hand. Cassini, who did not testify at the trial, told Hedderich that at one point he sought out a bed to sack out on and came into the room where the victim and another woman were in bed. A witness said that Cassini climbed over a three foot dog cage that was put there to block the door and keep him out. After climbing over it he got into bed with the sleeping victim and witness.
The other woman testified that she woke up and Cassini was on top of her friend with his pants down. The witness said she heard the victim say “No!” She said that she started yelling for help and “rape”.
When Cassini got up and went outside the victim’s boyfriend punched him out.
Cassini admitted that he may have touched the woman’s vagina as many as five times while she was passed out on the bed. That admission was ultimately used against him to obtain the conviction of second-degree assault, which has vaginal penetration, even if ever so slight, as one of its conditions.
Much of the trial hinged on the defense’s contention that Cassini was intoxicated and therefore wasn’t able to make a judgment about the victim’s consent versus whether the victim was so intoxicated that she was unconscious, and thus unable to give consent during the assault. The victim was interviewed by police a short time after the incident.
There was testimony that there was considerable drinking going on at the party at a house behind DJ’s in Mechanicsville.
While Hedderich was on the stand, Thompson continued to press him as to why he only interviewed four of the more than 60 people at the party. He said he felt he had enough evidence, particularly with the defendant’s statement.
In Hedderich’s submission to the court commissioner before the rape charges were levied, he wrote that the defendant had admitted to humping the girl and that constituted vaginal penetration. When asked to find that in Cassini’s statement, Hedderich admitted he had made a mistake. Thompson quickly retorted, “You made a lot of mistakes,” to which Hedderich replied, “I did.”
As part of his defense Thompson also said in his closing arguments that his young, impressionable client, who had never been in trouble with the law before, was coerced into admitting some of what happened after the fact and after he had sobered up. For instance he conceded he may have fingered the girl after that suggestion was planted by the deputy using normal interviewing techniques.
Regarding the rape charge against his client, Thompson said the victim had lived the past year believing she was raped since she didn’t remember what happened. And conversely, he said his client lived the previous year, including six months in jail while securing bond, believing he could be culpable for a life in prison sentence.
Judge Abrams later noted, however, that she didn’t rule that a rape didn’t happen, only that there was no evidence presented to prove it.
But before the judge ruled, White took one last stab at Thompson. “It’s nice to have a big city Baltimore lawyer come down and telling us what we did wrong,” she said. White added Cassini’s statement to the police was sufficient when he said he started fondling the woman in “hopes she would wake up.” That, White said, was evidence that she was asleep.
The judge agreed and convicted Cassini of the second-degree sexual assault change. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered and he will be sentenced at a later date after that is completed by the Department of Parole and Probation.
Contact Dick Myers at email@example.com
Original Report 1/20/2014: Man charged with second degree rape in Mechanicsville