Where was the towel?

Neil D. Isaacs

December 24, 1991|By Neil D. Isaacs

DURING the Willie Smith trial, we saw a great deal of evidence, presented in meticulous and lurid detail, but we never saw the single most crucial piece of physical evidence -- the beach towel.

The beach towel supported every aspect of the defense's version of what happened, neatly wrapping up acts of mutually consensual sex on the beach and the lawn. It's hard to imagine a rapist tackling a victim on a towel spread out for the occasion. But the towel was never produced in evidence. Why not? I can think of three possible explanations.

1. The leave-no-grain-of-sand-unturned defense, which began to take shape early on with experts and evidence from all over the country, somehow managed to forget the towel, the item which could conclusively demonstrate the truth of the defense's version.

2. The towel was submitted to the defense's forensic experts, who found no trace evidence -- sperm, grass, fibers from the accuser's dress -- and therefore decided not to place the towel in evidence.

3. There was no towel.

Sometimes the absence of particular evidence is as compelling an argument as theories based on existing evidence. In this case, it is worth noting the absence of traces of towel fiber or fabric on the accuser's dress. Defense argued that the absence of grass stains on the dress refuted the accuser's version of events. The absence of towel traces on the dress argues at least as persuasively against the defense's version.

The defense story neatly accounted for much of the forensic evidence and testimony, but its plausibility -- like the reported events themselves -- rested on the towel. Could the beach towel have been (another) fabrication?

Neil D. Isaacs, who lives in Colesville, describes himself as a "Monday morning prosecutor."

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