Wake Jury Deadlocks in Sexual Assault Trial
Posted September 23, 1998
RALEIGH — Jurors ended their deliberations Thursday afternoon, unable to reach a unanimous verdict in the sexual assault trial of Pierre Debnam, a former N.C. State University police officer.
By most standards it was a short trial, lasting only two and a half days. The jury deliberated for about three hours and could not reach a unanimous verdict.
The jury said they were deadlocked by a vote of eight to four. The judge declared a mistrial and dismissed the jury.
"We're disappointed in having a hung jury, but we will definitely re-try the case," prosecutor Frank Jackson said. "We think that the conduct on the street with this law enforcement officer was uncalled for, degrading, and the victim is ready to try the case again. We'll set it as soon as we can."
One juror expressed frustration in the wake of the mistrial. Neil Buchanan says there is no doubt in his mind what the verdict should have been.
"I think he's guilty, and he's a liar," Buchanan said.
Neil Buchanan is one of the eight jurors who voted to convict Debnam of second degree sexual offense. He admits that it was the lack of physical evidence that caused the jury to deadlock.
"From what I understand, they said 'We think he's guilty, but we're not going to convict him just because we think he's guilty,'" Buchanan said. "'We have to know.'"
The victim also filed a civil lawsuit againstN.C. State, the school police chief and Debnam. In this suit, she alleges that Debnam has a history of harassing women.
The defense rested Thursday morning without presenting any evidence.
In closing arguments, the prosecutor called Pierre Debnam a protector who became a predator, saying Debnam never reported the traffic stop to N.C. State dispatch center, as required by his job. The prosecutor says Debnam intimidated the 22-year-old victim into exposing and humiliating herself.
Debnam's attorney says his client never touched or threatened the victim, who he says was seeking treatment for mental illness. The defense says the victim is mistaken about the events of August 3.
The jury had to consider three issues when they looked at second degree sex offense.
- Did a sex act occur?
- Was there force involved? Force does not have to be physical -- it can be threat or intimidation.
- Did the victim consent to the act?