Jury awards rape victim $9,000

May 13, 1994|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore County Circuit Court jury yesterday awarded a 20-year-old Harford County woman $9,000 in damages from her rapist.

The jury found she had proved a claim of battery against Lawrence Allen Gillette, but rejected a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Her civil lawsuit had sought $55 million in damages.

Gillette, 45, of the first block of E. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson, is a former theater manager convicted last year of second-degree rape for having sex with the victim after she became ill and passed out in his bed after drinking at a Towson bar on Aug. 27, 1992.

He received probation before judgment from Judge Thomas J. Bollinger, whose comments and criticism of the rape law drew protests and demands for disciplinary action.

Yesterday's $9,000 award was in compensatory damages for the battery -- unlawful touching. The jury awarded no punitive damages, which are designed to punish the defendant and deter others. Punitive damages require a higher standard of proof, Judge J. William Hinkel said in instructions to the jury.

The woman's attorney, Raymond M. Atkins Jr., called the award "wholly inadequate."

"We're talking about a rape case," Mr. Atkins said. "It's clear that they believe that it happened. No amount of money could possibly compensate, [but] $9,000 is a slap in the face . . . It sends a very poor message to the public, and it denigrates the system."

He and Gillette's attorney, Margaret A. Mead, said they might appeal.

Gillette, who now works as a salesman at Video Wizard in Timonium, said of the verdict, "At least it's over. I kind of expected it."

The victim said she didn't understand the award and didn't want to talk about it. Her mother said the lack of punitive damages against Gillette "is like saying 'You're just another woman: You got drunk and you got raped. So be it.' "

The panel of four women and two men deliberated about two hours after two days of testimony.

Judge Hinkel didn't allow the jury to be told about the criminal conviction. But he explained the rape law to jurors in the context of the civil case as unlawful penetration when a woman is mentally incapacitated or physically helpless -- and the defendant knew or should have known it. If there was consent, he told them, no money should be awarded.

Afterward, the jurors declined to comment but the forewoman did say they weren't aware this was the rape case handled by Judge Bollinger.

She also said a photograph put into evidence by Ms. Mead -- taken before the rape and showing the victim lying across a bar having liquor poured into her mouth -- "had an effect" on the verdict.

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