Rape Case Still Hinges on Video
This was the second trial in which the three clean-cut young men sat at the gleaming mahogany defense table, facing the sobbing young woman in the witness chair who called them rapists.
Leaning against an Orange County courtroom wall was the pool cue they had inserted into her. On a table before them was a blue bottle of pricey gin, the same kind she had gulped from an 8 1/2 -ounce cup.
Those facts were undisputed, as was the sex, recorded on a Sony Handycam video camera that the boys wielded as they danced to rap music blaring from a CD jukebox.
Was the young woman, who was 16 at the time, playing along, or was she sexually assaulted while unconscious?
Last summer, jurors couldn’t agree and the three young men walked out of the courtroom with tears of relief.
Now a second jury is deliberating the fate of the three friends -- one the son of former Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl.
Unlike in the first trial, jurors have been handed a more tightly focused view into the alleged crime, which took place during a 2002 summer party at the Haidl home in Corona del Mar.
In the retrial, prosecutors reasoned they could get a conviction by simplifying the charges and streamlining the testimony.
So they dropped the allegation from the first trial that the girl was knocked out by a “date-rape” drug and simply argued that she was passed-out drunk.
And there was a different prosecutor: Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Chuck Middleton, who is something of a firebrand.
He cleared his calendar of all other cases, prepared his witnesses and, for the first time, showed the 19-year-old accuser the videotape, just two weeks before the second trial began.
She saw what the boys did with the pool cue, a Snapple bottle and a cigarette.
The accuser, known in court as Jane Doe, said she remembered none of it, and in the retrial she grew feisty, even sparring with defense attorneys.
Notwithstanding her admissions of previously having casual sex with the defendants, what happened that summer night was rape, she testified.
Middleton said the video alone should persuade the jury to return a guilty verdict.
Standing trial are Kyle Nachreiner and Keith Spann, both 20, and Gregory Haidl, 19. Conviction on all nine charges against them could bring probation or up to 23 years in prison.
The defense says it will win acquittal based on the same video, which has not been shown publicly because of the ages of the girl and the three boys, all minors at the time.
The public’s only knowledge of what it shows is derived from its soundtrack and the attorneys’ various -- and sometimes conflicting -- descriptions of the sex scenes.
The dispute -- and most likely the trial’s outcome -- centers on whether jurors believe the video reveals a girl so intoxicated that it would have been impossible for her to consent to the sex play that follows, first on a white wicker couch and then on a tan-felt pool table.
The defense called two witnesses who analyzed the girl’s flinches and arm movements and testified that she was clearly conscious, validating the defense’s premise that she was faking her drunken stupor.
Dropping their contention from the first trial that police had doctored the footage to make their clients look worse, defense attorneys said the tape was their best witness that the girl wasn’t raped.
Middleton took care that jurors didn’t become inured to the footage.
He showed it only three times -- the first more than a week into the trial and the last on Thursday as he walked them through the pool table scene.
It was the image he wanted to leave with jurors before they retreated to the deliberation room.
But even as defense lawyers asked jurors to concentrate on the science of neurology and alcohol consumption in reaching their verdict, most of their words were directed at the accuser.
They called her a promiscuous social climber who viewed videotaped sex as her “claim to fame,” a person who would continue to engage in group sex while the defendants were in prison.
They questioned her morals -- although not their clients’ -- for engaging in consensual sex with the defendants soon after meeting them, in the weeks before the incident.
And the events on the videotape, they said, represented just a slice of a three-day “sexcapade” involving her and the defendants.
Several of the girl’s former friends took the stand and called her a liar.
Two said that their friend thought being raped “was a cool way to get presents.”
“She’s diabolical,” attorney Peter Morreale said of the accuser in his closing argument.
She underwent 20 hours of questioning over three tearful days in which defense attorneys tried to embarrass her, disparage her and catch her in lies and inconsistencies.
Middleton bristled, complaining to jurors in his closing arguments that the defense “tried as hard as it could to get you to hate Jane Doe.”
The alleged victim said her recollection of the night’s events stopped after she drank a beer, took a hit of marijuana and gulped down 8 1/2 ounces of 94-proof gin, all within half an hour.
That day, she said, all she had had to eat was a breakfast sandwich and a single chicken strip.
Defense attorneys seized on her alcohol consumption as a key issue, pointing out to jurors that after consulting her testimony from the first trial, she seemed to have had about the same amount to drink the night of the incident as she had the day before.
On that previous day, she testified that she was dizzy but still able to consent to sex with Haidl and Spann.
All three -- and their accuser -- lived in Rancho Cucamonga at the time of the incident.
Nachreiner and Spann still live there, and during the trial returned home with their families.
But Haidl moved to Orange County to live with his father, who quit his Sheriff’s Department post to focus on his son’s legal troubles.
And during the trial, the younger Haidl has been held in jail after several brushes with the law since last summer, including a statutory rape charge related to a different 16-year-old girl.
During the monthlong trial, his parents and extended family watched each morning as Haidl, in a dress shirt and sweater vest, was led into the courtroom and had his handcuffs removed.
On Thursday, the last morning of the trial, Haidl’s mother cried as she stared at the back of her son’s head.