Guilty, then not guilty: Judge causes tempest by changing verdict in criminal sexual assault case, delivering rebuke from bench

Schnack Rodriguez and Adrian

From left, defense attorney Drew Schnack, Assistant State's Attorney Anita Rodriguez and Judge Bob Adrian

QUINCY — A rare reversal by a judge, who ruled in October that an 18-year-old Quincy man was guilty of criminal sexual assault but changed his mind Monday, has frustrated an assistant state’s attorney and infuriated the father of the accuser.

“I’ve been prosecuting for over 40 years — first in Kansas, and for the last almost 34 and a half years in this office,” Assistant State’s Attorney Anita Rodriguez said Tuesday. “I’ve never even seen anything close to that. Frankly, I’m without words to explain. I have no explanation for what happened.”

Meanwhile, defense attorney Drew Schnack said Judge Robert Adrian simply did his job.

“That’s why you have post-trial motions,” Schnack said. “Judges make mistakes all the time. Maybe he made a mistake with his original ruling. Maybe he made a mistake with a second ruling. But he’s got to do the best he can with what he’s got.”

In a report made to Quincy police officers (and provided to Muddy River News by the accuser), a minor girl said she attended a post-graduation party on May 30. She admitted to swimming in a pool in her bra and underwear, then getting drunk and vomiting. She said friends took her to another residence, where she laid on a couch and went to sleep. She claims she woke up to someone on top of her, claiming a pillow was over her face and a person later identified as Drew Clinton was “inside of me.”

Clinton, a former Quincy resident now living in Michigan, was in Quincy during Memorial Day weekend and staying at the homes of friends. He was arrested June 1 and put in the Adams County Jail.

Adrian found Clinton guilty of one count of criminal sexual assault for digitally penetrating the accuser’s vagina after a three-day bench trial on Oct. 13-15. Adrian found Clinton not guilty of two other counts of criminal sexual assault for using his penis to penetrate the accuser’s vagina.

A sentencing hearing for Clinton was held Monday. The statute under which Clinton was convicted requires a minimum four-year sentence in the Department of Corrections. It doesn’t allow an alternative sentence.

Schnack presented two post-trial motions Monday. One asked for the mandatory sentencing provisions of the statute to be declared unconstitutional and for Clinton to receive probation. The other asked for a not guilty judgment or a new trial because Rodriguez “made prejudicial and erroneous statements” in her closing argument and that Clinton was denied due process of law and equal protection of the laws.

“(Schnack) didn’t say what I said wrong. He didn’t say how we violated his rights. He didn’t say how (Clinton) was denied equal protection laws,” Rodriguez said in an interview Tuesday. “So, motion should be dismissed (by Adrian).

“Typically, on any kind of conviction, the defense files a motion for a new trial. That’s standard. I don’t think I’ve even had a motion for new trial granted, but it’s always standard.”

After the post-trial motions were made, Adrian changed his ruling from Oct. 15.

“This court is required to do justice,” Adrian said, according to transcripts provided by Kim Cottrall, a court reporter for Adams County. “This court is required to do justice by the public. It’s required to do justice by me, and it’s required to do justice by God.

“… This happened when this teenager … was two weeks past 18 years old. He has no prior record, none whatsoever. By law, the court is supposed to sentence this young man to the Department of Corrections. This court will not do that. That is not just. There is no way for what happened in this case that this teenager should go to the Department of Corrections. I will not do that.

“The court could find the sentencing statute for this offense is unconstitutional as applied to (Clinton), but that’s not going to solve the problem. If the court does that, this court will be reversed by the appellate court and Mr. Clinton will end up in the Department of Corrections. Mr. Clinton has served almost five months in the county jail, 148 days. For what happened in this case, that is plenty of punishment. That would be a just sentence. The court can’t do that.

“What the court can do, because this was a bench trial, the court will find that the people failed to prove their case on (the digital penetration count). The court is going to reconsider its verdict and is going to find the defendant not guilty. Therefore, the defendant will be released from custody. Bond will be discharged.”

Adrian’s ruling stunned Rodriguez, who handles most of the criminal sexual abuse cases in Adams County.

“When I met with (the accuser after the sentencing hearing), she had 10 to 15 friends who came to the court to support her,” she said. “They all came in the office asking, ‘How could that happen? Why did that happen?’ I simply had to tell them what I’m telling you. I have no words to explain what happened. I have no words.

“My take … is that the only reason he was changing his mind was because he did not want to impose a 4-year prison sentence.”

The father of the accuser came to the courtroom Monday prepared to give a victim impact statement.

“It was obviously shocking,” the father said of Adrian’s ruling.

Then, after reversing his decision, Adrian took the opportunity to chastise the parents of the students who attended the post-graduation party.

“I cannot believe the adults (who) were involved in this case, parents and other adults who were involved in this case, took their responsibilities so lightly for these teenage kids,” he said. “I cannot believe the permissiveness and the lack of responsibility taken by everyone involved in this case.

“This is what happens when parents do not exercise their parental responsibilities, when we have people, adults, having parties for teenagers, and they allow coeds and female people to swim in their underwear in their swimming pool. And, no, underwear is not the same as swimming suits. They allowed 16-year-olds to bring liquor to a party. They provided liquor to underage people, and you wonder how these things happen. Well, that’s how these things happen. The court is totally disgusted with that whole thing.

“Mr. Clinton, you’re going to be released. Go home if you still have one.”

Rodriguez believes Adrian chastised the accuser for her behavior, calling it “horrible.”

“He also chastised parents in general,” she said. “I don’t know if he was referring to the victim’s parents or whether he was only talking about the parents who had thrown a graduation party where alcohol was involved. I think he was talking about both, frankly.”

Bailiffs removed the father from the courtroom after he expressed his dissatisfaction with Adrian’s ruling.

The father said he checked before the party with the parents who were the hosts.

“I had talked to her before I went to bed that night,” he said. “I had no idea. My daughter is an honor roll student. The girls she’s running around with have great parents. My daughter has never been caught drinking. She’s never stayed out past curfew. She’s literally a Class A student. Why would I as a parent have any doubts that she’s not going to make the right decision?

“As (Adrian is) ripping on the parents, I’m thinking to myself, ‘What a low blow. You have just basically not given my daughter any justice.’ I have sat by my daughter’s bedside for three, four months, five months. … She is not well from this. Way too many things happened to say this did not happen. While this guy’s ripping me, as a parent, what was I supposed to do?

“Was my 16-year-old daughter drinking under the age at a graduation party that I was unaware of? Absolutely. Were a bunch of these girls swimming in a pool in their underwear? Yep. Is that a terrible mistake? Yes. Did (Clinton) make a mistake? Sure. Would he take it back if he could?  Probably. But the fact is, he still violated her without her permission.

“Pardon my language, but I feel like I was s**t all over by this judge.”

Schnack explained he elected to have a bench trial instead of a jury trial because of “the sympathy angle.”

“You can tell a jury all you want (that) sympathy should not enter into your verdict … but it does,” he said. “Maybe they feel sorry for the girl. Maybe they feel sorry for my guy. Maybe they feel sorry for the parents. There was such an overwhelming sympathy problem hanging over this. That’s why we made the decision to waive (a jury trial).

“And to be quite frank, the scientific evidence all supported us. You want somebody like Judge Adrian or a judge who’s familiar with DNA evidence to understand it and to use that to come to his conclusions.”

Schnack said investigators found no semen on the accuser. He also said the accuser’s testimony was inconsistent as to what happened that night, but Clinton’s was not.

“Her testimony was, ‘I don’t remember what happened,’” he said. “So, the state has no evidence as to what went on in that room. My guy gets on the stand and tells the exact same story he had been telling everybody all along. … This case wasn’t about whether or not he penetrated her. He told police from the get-go that he did. The issue was if she consented to it.”

Muddy River News reached out to Eighth Judicial Circuit Court, asking for a comment from Adrian. He told a representative of that office that “everything that needs to be said is in the transcript” of Monday’s sentencing hearing.

Schnack believes Rodriguez “overcharged” the case.

“She made it very easy to go to trial, with the minimum sentence of the offer that she gave us for a negotiated plea, which was 12 years,” he said. “It didn’t take 10 seconds to turn her down. I approached her about a lesser plea for something that could keep him out of the penitentiary. Give me a probation sentence or county time or work release, and it would still give her and the state some type of conviction or some satisfaction, some middle ground. I was summarily turned down.

“So, I was like, f**k it, then let’s go to trial.”

Rodriguez doesn’t regret her decision to charge Clinton with criminal sexual assault rather than a misdemeanor criminal sexual abuse.

“What he committed was criminal sexual assault, and a lesser charge was not appropriate,” she said. “We had very good evidence of sexual penetration, and it was by force. I saw no reason to make the charge less than what it was.”

Rodriguez says she can’t appeal the decision.

“As a prosecutor, there’s nothing the state can do,” she said. “It’s done.

“For me, it’s more than frustration. I’m very troubled with the way victims of sexual assault are treated in our criminal justice system. I felt that when the original guilty verdict was rendered on one count of criminal sexual assault, it did a lot towards healing this victim. I mean, that’s a huge step forward. And then to have this happen.

“I had no clue. I had no clue.”

The father says he has contacted his lawyer to learn about future options.

“Several people have reached out to me and basically said, ‘This is unheard of,’ ” he said. “I’ve had retired lawyers call me. I’ve had police detectives. I’ve had so many phone calls, saying I need to do something. I have received paperwork to file a complaint against the judge.

“I want (my daughter’s) story heard. I want this judge heard. I want the town to know that the judge done this. This could easily be anybody else’s kid. (Adrian) has set the precedent that as long as you’re in Adams County, and you’re 18 and you have no prior (convictions), you can go fondle and rape a girl and you’re going to get off.

“I hate to use my daughter as an example, but she needs justice. She obviously is not going to get it here.”

Schnack believes the system worked in this case.

“Yes, it is rare for a judge to grant a (post-trial) motion like that,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised by that. I always think I’m going to win. That doesn’t mean I’m going to win. But at the same time, what choice did the judge have? This was an opportunity, in this case, for a judge to correct his mistake, and that’s what he did. I’ll give him all the credit in the world for it.

“That’s why we have instant replay in football games. Referees make mistakes. Judges make mistakes. This was our instant replay, under the law, for lack of a better word.”

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