CRIME

Jury finds man guilty in rape trial that divided Kansas town

A northeast Kansas man charged with sexually assaulting several women was found guilty Friday of raping and sodomizing two of his accusers.

Jacob Ewing, 22, was convicted of rape and aggravated criminal sodomy involving one woman in September 2014, and rape and two counts of aggravated criminal sodomy of a woman in May 2016.

He was acquitted in April of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Trials involving assault allegations from three other women are scheduled later this year.

A Jackson County jury deliberated about three hours before convicting Ewing, whose cases sharply divided his hometown of Holton. He was also found guilty of battery, drug paraphernalia and charges related to furnishing alcohol to minors. He was found not guilty of possession of marijuana.

As District Judge Norbert Marek read the verdict, several people who gathered around the victims and their families cried. Ewing's family members sat mostly still but were later seen comforting each other in the hallway, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported . Ewing remained calm and showed little emotion.

Special prosecutor Jacqie Spradling said Ewing faces a maximum sentence of 26 years. Sentencing is scheduled for July 27.

During closing arguments Friday, defense attorney Kathleen Ambrosio reminded jurors that they had said they wanted to hear more than just "what someone says happened." She said testimony from the two women involved in the case and a third woman whose case will come to trial later this year are only claims and other evidence — such as Ewing's skin cells on one victim's underwear, bruises on a victim's legs and testimony that Ewing watched hours of violent pornography — did not prove their claims.

She pointed out inconsistencies in testimony and police reports and was critical of two women who returned to Ewing's home after they said he assaulted them.

"This young man's future lays in your hands," she said. "Before you put at his feet the title of rapist, before you put that on this young man's shoulders, you better make sure it's right."

Spradling reminded jurors that several witnesses, including two sexual assault nurse examiners and a psychology professor, testified that victims of sexual violence rarely report the crime to authorities and may delay reporting for years. She said the women were subjected to public humiliation and negative attention after accusing Ewing, whose family is prominent in Holton. He also was a high school football and wrestling star in the town.

"This is the reason that people who are sexually assaulted do not come forward," she said. "Because of what has gone on this week."

Ewing didn't testify during trial.

The multiple allegations against him have divided Holton, a town of 3,300 residents about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Topeka. Ewing supporters have said the allegations do not fit the person they know. They posted signs in their yards and wore supportive T-shirts to court proceedings.

Advocates for the women formed a support group on Facebook and organized volunteers to sit in the courtroom during proceedings.