WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- After eight months of preparation and a 10-day trial, the William Kennedy Smith rape case required only 77 minutes of jury deliberation to be resolved.
In the end, the testimony of 47 witnesses boiled down to: evidence of some bruises, no evidence of grass stains, and the conflicting stories of the two participants in the alleged rape.
The accounts of both Smith and his accuser were difficult to take at face value. They agreed they had sex early March 30 -- the woman contending Smith raped her after tackling her at the Kennedy estate; Smith contending the woman masturbated him and a short time later had consensual intercourse with him, becoming angry when he called her the wrong name.
None of the dozen persons staying in the house at the time -- most sleeping in their rooms with the windows open -- said they saw or heard the act.
Police photographs of bruises on the woman's body were the most powerful physical evidence presented by prosecutors. Defense attorneys argued the bruises could have been caused by consensual sex or other causes.
The lack of grass or soil stains on the woman's clothing was cited by defense attorneys as evidence the sex did not occur on the bare lawn as the woman maintained. Smith said he placed a towel on the lawn before they had sex.
For lack of any more persuasive physical evidence, the case hinged on the two stories told by the accuser and accused.
The two met at a Palm Beach nightclub early Saturday, March 30 -- Easter weekend. She gave him a ride back to the Kennedy estate and accepted an invitation from him to go inside.
The woman said she went inside for a quick look at the historic house, then agreed to go for a walk on the beach, but left the beach when Smith began removing his clothes to go swimming.
As she walked toward the house, she said, Smith tackled her onto the lawn and, despite her screams and struggle, pushed up her dress and raped her.
Smith said he invited the woman in so they could go swimming. They sat on the edge of the estate's swimming pool talking, he said, then decided to go to the beach.
There, Smith said, they fondled each other and the woman masturbated him to ejaculation. Later they had consensual sex while lying on a towel on the lawn, he said.
The woman's appearance on the third day of the trial was the highlight of five days of testimony by 23 witnesses for the state. Other witnesses included several persons who had been with the two before and after the incident, including Smith's uncle Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. , and Kennedy's son Patrick. Prosecutors attempted to show discrepancies in the times given in their various accounts.
Smith was the last of 14 witnesses presented by the defense during three days of testimony.
The defense called two expert witnesses to support their contentions that any screams by the woman would have been heard by guests in the house. A meteorologist said the night was quiet, with calm seas. An architect said the location and construction of the house would have made screams audible from inside the house.
The experts' testimony prepared the way for the appearance of Smith's mother Jean and two other guests at the house that night. They each told jurors they heard no screams while in their second-floor bedrooms with their windows open.
The seaside house was built in the 1920s and has no central air conditioning, relying on windows and a constant ocean breeze for cooling.
Three other expert witnesses built the case that the condition of the woman's clothing was inconsistent with her story.
A Connecticut medical examiner told jurors the clothing was undamaged and had no grass or dirt stains on it. A Michigan professor of forensic science said traces of sand found in her clothing probably came from the beach, not the lawn. A grass taxonomist testified that Bermuda grass fragments probably did not come from the Kennedys' lawn of primarily zoysia grass.
A friend of the alleged victim, Tony Liott, testified he met with her briefly at a bar the night of the incident. The woman omitted the meeting from her several statements describing the events of the evening.
In case they had forgotten, the jury got a lecture on the facts of life from Dr. Raphael S. Good, a human sexuality expert. He confirmed it is difficult for a man to penetrate an unaroused, struggling woman if his penis is not erect. The woman had testified Smith was not fully erect at the time, but said it was painful for her when he penetrated her.
As was expected, the most powerful defense testimony came from Smith himself.
Smith's story differed from the woman's at several critical points. The woman described a chance meeting at the bar, followed by a discussion of her young daughter's medical problems and Smith asking for a ride home. Smith described being 'picked up' by an aggressive woman, followed by dancing and kissing on the dance floor and the woman offering him a ride home.
Where the woman described a single act of rape, Smith told of two sexual engagements that night: on the beach and on the lawn.
While they lay on the beach, he said, the woman manually massaged him to ejaculation. Later, on the lawn, he said, she helped him enter her while he was in a semi-aroused state and they 'moved together' until he was aroused. She became angry only after he mistakenly called her 'Cathie' when asking her to lie still so he could avoid a second ejaculation.NEWLN: more
Smith's story neatly accounted for most of the gaps and discrepancies that had arisen during the testimony of the earlier witnesses: why there was sand in her panties (she took her panties off on the beach, he said), why there were no grass stains on her dress (they were lying on a towel). It even gave him a face-saving explanation for not being fully aroused at the time of intercourse.
The alleged victim's account suffered from two gaps: she did not remember when she took off her pantyhose, nor did she remember meeting with her friend Liott earlier that night, saying they may have met another night.
As a defendant, Smith had two advantages which helped him tell the more consistent story:
-- The woman had given several earlier accounts to the police and risked losing her credibility if her testimony was not consistent with them. But, as was his right, Smith had declined to give any earlier statements of the events of the night.
-- The woman and other witnesses were not allowed to view the trial. But as a defendant, Smith had the right to face his accusers and be present to hear all the testimony.
The result was a full, confident account of the evening from Smith, with no gaps and no uncertainties. Indeed, Smith's account may have lost some credibility with the jurors by being too neat and pat.
Only in her closing statement did prosecutor Moira Lasch note one discrepancy in Smith's account: Smith said he had removed the woman's panties during their beach encounter and, during the second encounter on the lawn, he either did not ejaculate or unknowingly ejaculated inside her. Yet the woman's panties were 'semen-saturated,' said Lasch.
Smith's salvation may have been that jurors do not merely vote for the more credible testimony. To vote to convict him, a juror must believe he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After 77 minutes, none of the six jurors would do that.
A conviction would have resulted in an appeal by Smith's attorneys. They were careful to document numerous occurrences throughout the lengthy court proceedings they could have used as the basis for an appeal to Florida's District Court of Appeal.
The net effect of the Smith case may go beyond the verdict for Smith. The case has brought other matters to public attention.
The case was successfully tried without major problems, in the judge's opinion, despite the intense media attention given it.
The trial also has made the subject of 'date rape' a matter of intense debate and discussion.
Testimony from the trial has pointed to the possibility someone at the Kennedy estate may have committed obstruction of justice while police were investigating the alleged rape.
When police went to the Kennedy estate to speak to Sen. Edward Kennedy the day after the incident, they were greeted by William Barry, a friend of the family who was visiting that weekend. He said both Kennedy and Smith were not at home and that Smith may have left town. He said he would have Kennedy call them, but Kennedy never called and left town the next day.
The trial has brought criticism on the county prosecutor's office for inadequate prosecution.
In this case, any prosecutor would have been hard pressed to do battle with the defense forces Smith assembled, led by lawyer Roy Black. Smith drew on the resources of two legal firms, advised by a third firm of jury consultants. Their bill is estimated to be more than $1 million.
Assistant state attorney Moira Lasch, chief prosecutor in the case, came to the case with the reputation of being the county's toughest prosecutor. But on several occasions during the proceedings, Judge Mary Lupo criticized her for apparent ignorance of the rules of court.
Lasch most recently encountered Lupo's wrath Tuesday during her cross-examination of Smith. After she repeatedly asked Smith to judge the credibility of other persons figuring in the case, Black objected. Lupo sustained the objection, dismissed the jury from the room, and lectured Lash:
'It's difficult for me to believe you are not acting intentionally,' Lupo said. 'If you ask one more question along these lines, you will not get away with it.'
On Wednesday Lupo referred to the defense as a 'team of legal geniuses' when she gently criticized defense attorney Mark Seiden for not being prepared with a legal argument.
'With all due respect, Mr. Seiden,' said Lupo, 'I find it hard to believe with that team of legal geniuses on behalf of the defense, that you would come in here without any case authority.'
Lasch also has been criticized for being less effective than the defense team in her questioning of witnesses. And the personable manner of Smith's chief attorney, Roy Black, contrasted starkly with that of Lasch.
Lasch's travails come at a bad time for her boss, David H. Bludworth, state attorney for Palm Beach County. This is the second highly-visible trial in two months to be severely criticized by local media for inadequate prosecution.
His office recently failed to convict two Palm Beach policemen accused of murdering a local man they had stopped for questioning. The outcome resulted in condemnation by the local newspaper, The Palm Beach Post, and a protest march led by the dead man's mother.