Despite emotional testimony from a 30-year-old Columbia woman who said she was repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by her downstairs neighbor, a Circuit Court jury refused to convict the accused attacker of rape.
After deliberating almost nine hours Thursday, the juryfound Willie Lee Small, 33, guilty of two second-degree sex offensesand assault and battery. He also had been charged with first- and second-degree rape of the woman, who was living in his apartment building in the Village of Long Reach last May 27.
The state expects to seek a sentence of 25 years without parole, the required sentence for three violent crime convictions. Small has two prior convictions for robbery and armed robbery.
"I'm not pleased," said Assistant State's Attorney Timothy G. Wolf, who prosecutedthe case. "But we got what we wanted out of this. He's a three-time loser."
Both Wolf and Small's attorney, Public Defender Richard Bernhardt, said the jury had difficulty deciding whether to believe thevictim or Small, who testified that he and the woman had a sexual relationship prior to May 27.
"There were two people who presented themselves as being honest, and it's a very difficult thing for a juryto deal with," Bernhardt said.
On opening day of the five-day trial, the victim testified that she was repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by a man who broke into her home and threatened her with a knife.
She said her 6-year-old daughter slept in her room across the hall during the attack.
Ordered by her assailant not to look at his face, the woman said,she took note of distinguishing characteristics, such as his scarred back and black athletic shoes. She identified Small as her attacker from police photos of the scarring on his back.
Small testified that he'd had two sexual encounters with the victim before May 27, and that she had let him into her apartment that night.
"What I'm testifying to is that we had sex that night, and it was consensual," Small said on the witness stand.
During the trial the jury heard a tape of the woman's 911 call on May 27 in which she tearfully said, "I've been raped," and that she and her daughter had been threatened by the attacker.
The state also presented expert witnesses who stated that DNA taken from Small's blood matched DNAextracted from semen stains on the victim's underwear.
In his closing argument, Wolf asked, "Was (the victim) raped, brutally sodomized and sexually assaulted on May 27, or was all of that activity at her will and invitation?"
Bernhardt told the jury that there were several inconsistencies in the victim's testimony, including her assertion that she never saw her attacker's face.
"By saying that in court, she's helped herself and her conscience, and she's transferred the burden to you," he said.
Small is scheduled for sentencing before Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. on June 11.