Jason Lee Found Not Guilty After Eight-Day Rape Trial

Jason Lee left court in Riverside yesterday afernoon after being found not guilty of rape. He had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in East Hampton in 2013. Doug Kuntz

Jason Lee, the former Goldman Sachs banker accused of raping an Irish woman at an East Hampton summer house in 2013, was found not guilty Wednesday afternoon after a non-jury trial that spanned three weeks.

State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Kahn, in handing down her verdict, said that the absence in court of the accuser's brother, who refused to return from Ireland to testify, had deprived her of a key prosecution witness. Saying further that the burden of proof is always on the prosecution, she said it was a burden that had not been met.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said "every effort possible" had been made to convince the brother to come, but that "he gave excuses . . . with respect to his education."

Mr. Lee had entered the courthouse with his wife, Alicia Lee, holding hands, as they had each day of the trial. She left the courthouse Tuesday by herself, however. He left 20 minutes later.

His mother, who had been seated in the courtroom, broke down in tears when the verdict was announced.

Andrew M. Lankler, Mr. Lee's lead attorney, had summarized his case on Tuesday, listing several inconsistencies between the accuser's April 14 testimony and statements she gave to police and a grand jury little more than 24 hours after the 2013 incident. He told Justice Barbara R. Kahn that each inconsistency in and of itself was enough to cast a reasonable doubt as to his client's guilt. "When you add them all up together," he said, she had to conclude that Mr. Lee was not guilty.

The courtroom in Riverside was filled to capacity the day before the verdict was handed down. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota sat in the front row.

Mr. Lankler's summary lasted about 75 minutes, with Kerriann Kelly's, for the prosecution, running about as long.

The timeline presented by Ms. Kelly began with the Irish accuser identified as D.D., then 20, changing in a bathroom back into the dress she had taken off earlier, before plunging into a backyard pool at the house Mr. Lee was renting in East Hampton. It was around 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2013.

As Ms. Kelly told it, Mr. Lee, naked, tried to enter the bathroom. D.D. at first thought it was a joke, then began pushing back against the door, leaving a handprint on it. She was knocked backward, Ms. Kelly said, and one of her earrings popped off, ending up on the floor by the sink. Mr. Lee then forced himself on her, placing the back of his hand over her mouth.

She fought back, kneeing him in the groin. He fell off her, Ms. Kelly said, and left the bathroom. D.D. then removed her underwear and dress and changed into some gym clothes Mr. Lee had given her earlier. She testified earlier in the trial that the dress "was disgusting."

Mr. Lankler's timeline also began in the bathroom. There were towels on the floor, and D.D. was performing oral sex on Mr. Lee, he told the court. Mr. Lankler pointed to multiple saliva stains found on the khaki shorts Mr. Lee was wearing that morning as proof, though the prosecution contended that the saliva had come from his own hand, when he clapped it over D.D.'s mouth.

Both sides agreed that D.D.'s brother and her friend Fiona were also at Mr. Lee's rented house. They had met him and a friend of his, Rene Duncan, the night before at Georgica, a popular nearby restaurant and nightspot, and were invited back to the house to continue partying at closing time. Mr. Lee's wife was in the city that evening.

According to the prosecution, Fiona, who testified the same day as D.D., and the brother went looking for D.D., not knowing where she was, and found her exiting the bathroom. Ms. Kelly reminded the court of Fiona's description of that moment: "She looked shaken. She looked scared. There were tears in her eyes."

Mr. Lankler, in his summary, questioned how an attack of that nature could have gone undetected by Fiona and the brother, who did not testify. The two were either in the living room or the kitchen, he said, just a few feet away from the bathroom. Mr. Lankler also emphasized differences between the two women's testimony.

Defense and prosecution agreed that all five people -- D.D., Fiona, her brother, Mr. Lee, and Mr. Duncan -- were outside on the street in front of the house when police arrived. Mr. Lee had made repeated phone calls in an attempt to get a taxi or car service to take his guests back to Montauk, where the brother was staying. To Ms. Kelly, this was the beginning of a long chain of actions which, taken together, were those of a guilty man. In the view of Mr. Lankler, however, Mr. Lee was simply trying his best to get rid of three now unwelcome visitors.

Mr. Lee finally told the three that he would drive them back to Montauk, himself. He told them to get into his Range Rover, which was parked in the driveway, not knowing that around that same time, Mr. Duncan had called East Hampton Town police to report his own car missing, apparently stolen. He had loaned it to a friend of D.D.'s brother earlier that morning.

Officer Sarah Mortensen arrived at 6:34 a.m. Evan as Mr. Duncan demanded that his car be found, Mr. Lee told her the police were not needed. In Mr. Lankler's narrative, this was natural: Mr. Duncan and the brother had been having a loud argument on a quiet East Hampton street and Mr. Lee wanted to calm things down.

Officer Mortensen also saw D.D., her brother, and her friend. They approached her vehicle and the brother leaned over to tell her something had happened to his sister. Mr. Duncan and Mr. Lee were arguing in the street at this point, away from the squad car.

Officer Mortensen asked D.D. to get into the car with her, and when she looked up, Mr. Duncan was in the street alone. Mr. Lee was found two and a half hours later, curled up in the back seat of the Range Rover.

Ms. Kelly said he had seen D.D. get into the police car and panicked. He jumped into the car, and made numerous phone calls while there, exchanging a series of text messages with both friends and attorneys.

Mr. Lankler saw it differently. Mr. Duncan was shouting about his missing car, he said. The scene was chaotic. "So Mr. Lee removes himself from the dispute . . . the reality is, he removes himself from the situation, but he takes a vantage point where he can see," in the back of the Range Rover.

D.D., along with her brother and her friend, were taken to police headquarters. Mr. Lankler did not explain why Mr. Lee stayed in the car, and Mr. Lee did not take the stand in his own defense.

He remained in the car, phoning and texting, while police were searching the house and grounds. He was not thinking about covering up a crime, said Mr. Lankler; rather, he was concerned about the car. The attorney made a point of saying that one of the first lawyers Mr. Lee called was the same one who represented Lizzie Grubman in 2001 after she backed her car into a crowd outside a Southampton nightclub. (Though he did not mention his name, that attorney was his co-counsel, Edward Burke Jr.)

Ms. Kelly objected, and the comment was stricken from the record.

Mr. Lankler and Ms. Kelly also interpreted testimony by Tara Accavallo, a nurse trained to treat victims of sexual assault, differently. She spent four hours examining D.D., and testified that the woman was alternately shaking and crying throughout, up to 11 hours after the incident.

Ms. Kelly reminded Justice Kahn of Ms. Accavallo's statement that a vaginal bruise was consistent with rape, while Mr. Lankler stressed the nurse's admission that the bruise could have occurred during consensual sex.

Finally, there was the question of the peach-colored dress D.D. was wearing that night. Police did not find it at the house during their investigation; it turned up eight months later, in a box delivered by someone employed by the defense.

Mr. Lankler did not explain this. Instead, he criticized the police investigation.

Ms. Kelly, on the other hand, contended that Mr. Lee had withheld vital evidence, suggesting that he had kept the dress as a "trophy" -- yet more proof, she concluded, of a "consciousness of guilt."

"I can't account for the judge's thinking," the district attorney, Mr. Spota, said after the verdict was announced. "We disagree. That's all I can say."
 

Jason Lee, with his wife, Alicia, outside the Riverside court building where his trail on rape charges unfolded over the past two weeks. The couple left separately following the not-guilty verdict.Doug Kuntz