BANGOR, Maine — It was a “he said, she said” scenario, and in the end the jury handed up a split decision.
The trial of John Auclair, 45, of Bangor, who was accused of raping an acquaintance last fall, ended Tuesday in Penobscot County Superior Court with one verdict each of guilty and not guilty. Auclair was acquitted on a charge of Class A gross sexual assault but was found guilty on a lesser charge of Class B gross sexual assault.
The difference between the two counts, which involved the same incident last October, was whether Auclair forcibly raped a 41-year-old woman or whether the act occurred while she was otherwise incapacitated and therefore unable to resist.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts admitted Tuesday afternoon that the split verdict was a little surprising.
“It seemed the jury felt there was not sufficient evidence of physical force but that there was reason to believe the act was not consensual,” he said on the steps of the courthouse. “I think [the victim] came across [as] extremely credible, while Mr. Auclair changed his story several times throughout the proceeding.”
Auclair will be sentenced at a later date, but he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for Class B gross sexual assault. Auclair’s attorney, Kirk Bloomer, declined a request for an interview after the trial.
The decision by a jury of seven men and five women took less than two hours and concluded a two-day trial before Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy.
The charges arose from an incident in the early morning hours of Oct. 14, 2007. According to court testimony, Auclair, the victim and another woman identified as Auclair’s girlfriend had spent the previous night drinking at a Bangor nightspot and then went back to Auclair’s apartment.
At some point the next morning, the victim testified, she woke up to pain in her genitals and discovered that Auclair had pulled her pants down and initiated sexual intercourse. She further alleged that he pinned her against a couch for several minutes. The woman left immediately and took a taxi to Eastern Maine Medical Center for an evaluation, according to court testimony.
The victim then notified police, who encouraged her to call Auclair and confront him about the incident. That call was recorded and played to the jurors during the trial. During the five-minute conversation, Auclair did not admit to raping the woman and did not admit to any sexual contact.
When he was brought in for questioning a few days later, Auclair changed his story. The interview between Auclair and Bangor police Detective Brent Beaulieu also was played in court. During that exchange, Auclair indicated that the woman was extremely drunk and that it was she who initiated sexual intercourse.
In their opening statements, both Roberts and Bloomer told jurors that the case would come down to who was more believable and credible, Auclair or the victim. Since each agreed that sexual contact had occurred, any physical evidence was irrelevant for trial purposes.
Bloomer’s defense attempted to portray the victim as someone who drank to excess regularly and had a motive to harm Auclair; specifically that she did not approve of his relationship with a good friend of hers.
But Roberts pointed to the fact that Auclair initially denied that any sex had occurred as telling evidence that his story was less credible. It was only after Auclair discovered that the victim had gone to a hospital that he changed his story, the prosecutor said.
Based on the difficulty of successfully prosecuting rape cases, particularly ones that don’t rely on any physical evidence, Roberts said he was pleased with the jury’s decision.
“I’m not sure what we’ll ask for a sentence, but I imagine I’ll consult the victim,” he said.