Arundel broker found not guilty in date rape case

July 04, 1991|By Peter Hermann

ANNAPOLIS -- Gary Hart, a prominent real estate broker from Anne Arundel County, was found not guilty yesterday of raping a 34-year-old woman who testified that she was choked and held against her will following a date last October.

It took eight men and four women 3 1/2 hours to return a verdict in the trial, which has included 11 days of testimony, much of it centering on the woman's psychiatric history and relationships with men.

The detailed probing of the woman's past by defense lawyers in Circuit Court in Annapolis has drawn fire from prosecutors and rape counselors who said they have never seen any woman bringing rape charges undergo such rigid scrutiny.

"You represent the community of 1991," Assistant State's Attorney William C. Mulford II told jurors during his closing rTC arguments. "If you allow this kind of defense, I won't bother any more. . . . We forgot who is on trial."

After the trial, Mr. Hart said it was "tragic" that the woman's personal life became an issue but said prosecutors forced it by bringing the case to trial. "We were forced to play that card," he said.

The woman called the verdict "an injustice."

"I don't think the jury knows that date rape exists," she said.

The woman testified that she and Mr. Hart, a 40-year-old Annapolis resident, had dated several times since August, when she met him at an Annapolis nightclub where she worked as a waitress. On Oct. 15, she said, she called Mr. Hart to break a date because her apartment was flooded by a malfunctioning dishwasher.

She said Mr. Hart persuaded her to go out, then got her to stay over. She said she kissed him after changing into one of his shirts in an upstairs bathroom. She said Mr. Hart became aggressive and tried to undress her.

The woman testified that Mr. Hart forced her onto her stomach, raped her and choked her while keeping a knee lodged in her back. She said Mr. Hart told her right after the attack that she would "crawl out of this town when he was done with me."

The woman said she went to the hospital and called police about 15 hours after she says she was attacked. A doctor at Anne Arundel Medical Center testified that he could find no evidence of bruises. But other prosecution witnesses testified they saw bruises on the womanafter her visit to the doctor.

A key prosecution witness and a former Hart employee, Lee Mohen, testified that Mr. Hart told him two days after the alleged assault that he was afraid that the sexual intercourse he had had with the woman could be construed as rape because "things got a little rough."

But Mr. Hart's lawyers said Mr. Mohen didn't come forward with this story until five months after the conversation supposedly took place and then only after several run-ins with Mr. Hart that caused him to leave the company.

Testifying about those conflicts, Mr. Mohen said Mr. Hart asked him to falsify a loan application refinancing Mr. Hart's home and also made racial slurs against Mr. Mohen's granddaughter.

Mr. Hart has owned a real estate business bearing his name since 1978. He passed controlling interest in the firm to Coldwell Bankers Elite Properties in January, saying a company bearing his name could not function with a rape charge hanging over him.

Mr. Hart said on the witness stand that he and the woman had consensual sex. He said that they had had an ongoing sexual relationship, a claim the woman denied, and that she only got upset on Oct. 16 after he told her he would not take her on a golfing trip to Florida.

In attempts to make the woman's testimony appear unreliable, Mr. Hart's lawyers cross-examined her on everything from her charge cards to her telephone bills to stories she told psychiatrists about killing a Michigan police officer GARY HART who raped her when she was 16.

The woman testified that she was rapedby a police officer but said she made up the story about killing him so she could deal with the event psychologically.

Defense lawyers also introduced testimony that the woman suffers from a mental disorder that causes her to fantasize about rape, has made false accusations about being sexually assaulted before and has tried to commit suicide twice. They tried to bring evidence before the jury that the woman once worked as a prostitute for a College Park escort service but were barred from doing so by the judge.

And the day the jury was selected nearly three weeks ago, the woman admitted locking herself in a room of a friend's home with a gun and having to be coaxed out by an investigator for the state's attorney's office.

"She was a package in nice wrapping with a pretty bow," said Arnold Weiner, one of Mr. Hart's lawyers. "She was baby-sat to learn how to be a believable victim. Every new fact about her raises another question."

Two of the jurors interviewed said the jury didn't talk about the woman's past much at all during their deliberations, but two others said the evidence did hurt her credibility on the stand. All the jurors interviewed said they were looking for physical evidence, such as photographs taken by doctors or a ripped shirt, none of which the state could provide.

They said the case came down to the woman's story against Mr. Hart's story, and Mr. Hart simply was more believable.

"I was very impressed with Mr. Hart's testimony," said Patricia Cservek.

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