Judge declares mistrial in rape case involving two teens

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003

A Juneau jury could not reach a verdict Thursday in the trial of a man accused of raping two teenage girls last summer. The deadlock forced Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks to declare a mistrial.

District Attorney Rick Svobodny said he hasn't decided whether to retry Michael Roberts, 34. He said he will announce at a hearing May 28 whether Roberts will be retried.

Roberts was charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, all felonies, and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor. The charges stem from alleged incidents in May 2002 involving one of the 15-year-old girls.

In a separate indictment, Roberts was charged with four counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor stemming from alleged incidents in May 2002 with the other 15-year-old girl.

The jury of 10 men and three women, which included one alternate, went into deliberations Wednesday afternoon and came back Thursday afternoon deadlocked. Svobodny said he has not polled the jury to see how many voted in favor of conviction.

"Depending on whether the jury came back with something like 11-1 to convict or 11-1 to acquit will certainly be a factor in whether we retry," said Svobodny. "I'll also be talking to the girls to see if they want to go through another trial. I always say it's a lot easier for me to try a rape case than it is for a victim to go through it."

In an interview with the Empire, Roberts said the deadlock proves there was no evidence of guilt but the accusations have caused him harm.

"I'm branded for life," he said. "I have friends that I've had for years that won't even look at me now because of what those girls said. There are a few who've stood by me and believe me, but there are some who assume that no matter what a jury says, I'm guilty in their eyes.

"I'm just relieved not to be convicted today. The issue is I didn't do anything in the first place."

Roberts said the girls were lying when they said he had sex with them last summer while he was staying in a friend's home. The two girls, one a runaway and the other a foster child, also were staying in the home. Several months after they left the home, both girls reported Roberts had sex with them, according to trial testimony.

Roberts pointed to discrepancies in the girls' testimony such as one girl, who said Roberts forced her to have sex with him, being unable to recall the month the incident allegedly occurred. He also pointed to the lack of physical evidence.

Svobodny said he hoped the jury didn't see the case that way.

"I hope that's not what our justice system comes down to," he said. "If we based decisions on a lack of physical evidence because victims waited to come forward, rapists would never be convicted."

Roberts' mother, Irene, told the Empire she was relieved the "truth came out about my son."

"I raised my son to respect women," she said. "If I thought for one minute my son did something like this, I would want God to take me where I stood because I didn't raise my son to be that way."

• Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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