After five days of evidence, the jury hearing a sex assault trial in Juneau Superior Court broke to deliberate after closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.
Attorneys tasked the jury with weighing irreconcilable evidence — a confession obtained by police versus DNA results that favor the defendant — in the case against a 61-year-old Juneau resident accused of performing a sex act on a younger family member as she slept.
Frank W. Lee is charged with three felony counts of sexual assault for the reported incident last September. He could face up to 99 years in prison for each count if convicted.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams during closing replayed the audio recording of the phone call where Lee not only admits to some of the allegations, but reveals he also penetrated the woman digitally before she awoke. He is heard apologizing then suggesting that if the alleged victim were to “come here right now,” he would still do it. Williams capitalized on that statement during closing arguments.
“The drunken incoherent ramblings of a dirty old man?” Williams asked, alluding to how the defense attorney characterized the statements earlier at trial. “No. No. This was a shocking, offensive admission of sexual assault.”
Police had obtained a Glass warrant that authorized the phone call between Lee and the alleged victim to be recorded. Lee was arrested shortly thereafter.
Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland in his closing argued the state was ignoring the value of the forensic evidence, which showed Lee’s DNA was not found on the alleged victim’s body and vice versa despite the fact that uncompromised DNA samples were collected within hours of the assault.
Hedland pointed to an image he projected on the courtroom wall: a political cartoon called “Trashing Forensic Evidence” by Mike Keefe that depicts a bag labeled “forensic evidence” being thrown out of a window into a dumpster with a blindfolded Lady Justice.
“The state wants to say that it’s OK there’s no DNA evidence,” he told the jury, reminding them, “You must conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that DNA evidence doesn’t matter, or you have to convict Mr. Lee.”
Hedland’s expert witness at trial, a DNA analyst from Michigan State University, suggested Lee’s DNA should have been found on the victim given the circumstances surrounding the case. The state, in rebuttal, said the professor was biased.
Hedland did not provide the jury a specific motive as to why the alleged victim in the case would fabricate the allegations, and he simply said, “People are capable of all kinds of things.” At one point during the trial, he told the judge outside the presence of the jury that he plans on arguing the woman made up the allegations to prevent Lee from obtaining custody of her son, but the jury did not hear any evidence or testimony in relation to that.
The defense attorney urged the jury to take emotions out of the fact-finding process as they decide the case.
“Those feelings of moral indignation have nothing to do with the case in front of you,” he said, adding the jury’s job “in no way ever is to try to validate somebody because they said something sexual happened. That’s not your role.”
In a rebuttal argument, Williams said the state was not ignoring the forensic evidence but merely asking the jury to recognize that DNA is a “powerful, but imperfect tool.”
“It’s not the end all, be all,” she said. “You’re considering the totality of this evidence.”
Williams said the alleged victim had no reason to lie. She pointed out that the woman’s story remained consistent throughout the proceedings: the first police report, the recorded phone call with Lee, the grand jury proceedings and at trial. But what corroborates and confirms those claims, Williams said, is Lee’s own admissions in the phone call.
“You don’t have to believe her,” she said. “You can believe him.”
The 12 jurors (eight women, four men) began deliberating at about 1:20 p.m. and adjourned at the end of the business day without reaching a verdict. They will resume deliberations Thursday morning.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.
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Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this article, the Empire reported that Lee admitted to the allegations during a phone conversation recorded by police. He admitted to some of the allegations, not all. This version of the article also clarifies a portion of what Lee is heard saying during the phone call.