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Attorneys argue over consent in Davis date-rape trial

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From page A1 | February 01, 2013 |

UPDATE: Thaddeus Sonne was found not guilty in a verdict delivered at 1:30 p.m. Friday and was released immediately from the Yolo sheriff’s custody, his attorney Dan Hutchinson said. Read the complete story in Sunday’s Enterprise.

WOODLAND — A Yolo County jury began deliberating Thursday whether a 21-year-old Davis man is guilty of rape or the victim of overzealous police and prosecutors.

Those were the conflicting images attorneys presented earlier that day during closing arguments in Thaddeus Jay Sonne’s trial in Yolo Superior Court.

Sonne was arrested on the night of Aug. 16, 2012, following what by all accounts was an alcohol-fueled night on the town with friends in downtown Davis. A couple walking near Second and H streets reported seeing suspicious activity near the Amtrak station and alerted two police officers who happened to be nearby.

The officers have testified that as they approached the railroad tracks, they spotted Sonne on top of a 21-year-old woman on the ground. They were engaged in sexual intercourse, and the woman could be heard saying, “No, no, stop.”

When she said it, when Sonne heard it, and how a reasonable person would react to those words are at issue in the case.

In her closing remarks, Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor played a portion of an audio recording made by a Davis police officer as he questioned Sonne at the scene.

“Sometimes, it’s more of a dare than an actual request,” Sonne tells Officer Ralph Piro, the sounds of late-night downtown revelry in the background. “If she wanted me to stop, she could have made me stop.”

“No means no,” Zambor told the seven-man, five-woman jury in Judge Paul Richardson’s courtroom. “It’s not vague. It’s not confusing. … The defendant is guilty of rape because (the woman) told him no.”

(The Enterprise is withholding the woman’s name because she is an alleged sexual assault victim.)

But Sonne’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson, contended that his client believed the sex to be consensual, and that, with more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, he likely didn’t comprehend hearing “no” until the officers had come upon them.

“The next thing he knows, there’s a light in his face, and he’s off,” Hutchinson said.

Sonne and the woman had first met a week prior to the alleged incident, according to testimony presented at the defendant’s preliminary hearing in November and at trial. Their paths crossed a second time at a J Street party, where both were among a group of friends who decided to go bar-hopping in downtown Davis.

At their final stop, Our House on Second Street, security video captured images of the woman leading Sonne by the hand from the establishment to the street outside.

“But just because she led him out of the bar does not mean she consented to go have sex with him on the gravel out by the Amtrak station,” Zambor said. “Even if she was initiating this contact, she has the right to say ‘no’ at any time. If the man keeps going, it is still rape — that’s what the law says.”

Zambor said witnesses reported seeing the woman, whose blood-alcohol content measured nearly three times the legal limit at 0.23, have difficulty standing and even holding up her head after she left the bar. By the time police confronted the pair, she was kicking her legs and crying as she told Sonne repeatedly to stop, the officers testified.

“The facts show that she said no. He heard it, and he decided that it meant something different,” Zambor said. “I ask you to hold the defendant accountable for his actions.”

Hutchinson, meanwhile, pointed to inconsistencies he said have plagued the case from the start. He asserted that witnesses changed their testimony to aid the prosecution, and that police who once said they were 30 feet away when they heard the woman say “no” later claimed it was more than twice that distance.

He said debris on the woman’s knees and on Sonne’s back indicated she had been on top of him at some point — “a position that usually requires cooperation from the woman” — and that she responded “no” when an officer asked whether Sonne had raped her.

“Both (Sonne and the woman) said it wasn’t rape, and we’re still here,” Hutchinson said, adding that a police detective ignored the woman when she expressed uncertainty about pursuing the case.

The two attorneys also were at odds over whether the woman had been injured during the incident. A nurse who examined the woman that night testified she had suffered vaginal trauma, while a defense expert said her condition was consistent with vigorous sex.

“I think this is a woman that found herself in a situation that she couldn’t get out of,” Hutchinson said. He urged the jury to deliver a not-guilty verdict for his client, and to “let him get on with his life.”

“You have the opportunity to right a wrong that’s been done to a fellow human being, and that’s quite a thrill when that happens,” he said.

The jury met briefly Thursday afternoon before adjourning for the day. Their deliberations resume Friday morning.

— Reach Lauren Keene at lkeene@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

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