Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota said after the verdict that he was disappointed and disagreed with Judge Kahn’s reasoning.
“I think the evidence clearly proved the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “As far as the non-appearance of the victim’s brother, we made every effort possible … constantly urging him to come forward. He chose not to come forward and I don’t think that hurt the case at all. But I can’t account for the judge’s thinking. We disagree, that’s all I can say.”
The case against Mr. Lee had been prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Kerriann Kelly, the chief of the major crimes division of the county D.A.’s office, and Assistant District Attorney Kimberley Shalvey.
The prosecutors had claimed that they had tried repeatedly to urge the accuser’s brother to return, but that he had refused, saying that he was in the middle of college exams and that he had a job in London starting immediately afterward. The prosecutors noted that as a foreign citizen, they couldn’t compel the young man to return to the U.S. and testify.
It was the brother, identified only by his first name, Colin, who had urged his sister to talk to police about her encounter with Mr. Lee in the bathroom of the older man’s Wainscott summer home on the morning of August 20, 2013.
Lead defense attorney Andrew Lankler had said that without the chance to question the brother on the stand some inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s stories could not be explored sufficiently. The testimony the young man, 21 at the time, had been given to a grand jury the day after the incident and was included as evidence in the trial.
Manhattan investment banker Jason Lee was found not guilty this afternoon of the August 2013 rape of a 20-year-old Irish college student.
Mr. Lee, 38, had waived his right to a jury and the verdict was issued by Supreme Court Justice Barbara Kahn.
In delivering her verdict, the veteran sexual assault judge seemed to indicate that her decision hung largely on the refusal of the brother of Mr. Lee’s accuser to return to the U.S. to testify at the trial. The young woman and a friend both flew back to the US to testify earlier this month.
“Unfortunately, through no fault of the people’s, this court was deprived” of the brother’s testimony, she said.
The three-week trial concluded on Tuesday afternoon with the closing statements by the lead defense attorney and district attorney’s office.
Mr. Lee made no statement after his acquittal on Wednesday and left the Riverside courthouse just minutes later in a waiting car.
Sag Harbor attorney Edward D. Burke Jr. made the line statement from the defense team.
“This was a false accusation,” he said. “The evidence was clear from day one.”
The verdict in the Jason Lee rape trial is expected to be issued sometime after 2 p.m. this afternoon by Justice Barbara Kahn.
After the two sides in the trial issued their closing summations yesterday, Judge Kahn said she would be reviewing evidence submitted in the trial and would issue her verdict today.
Mr. Lee’s attorney insisted in his closing arguments on Tuesday morning that inconsistencies between physical evidence and the story told to police by the 20-year-old woman who claimed that he raped her should leave Judge Kahn with no other option but to render a not-guilty verdict.
In his hour-long final summation of the trial, which lasted through eight days of testimony over three weeks, defense attorney Andrew Lankler focused mostly on the physical evidence, or lack thereof, that a rape actually occurred and on the vagaries of the stories told by those at Mr. Lee’s summer rental house on the morning of August 20, 2013, in which, he said, the cumulative inconsistencies add up to a substantial pile of doubt about what really happened in the twilight hours of the morning.
“What you see is not always what you get,” Mr. Lankler said, borrowing the phrase that prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Kerriann Kelly had opened the trial with on April 8.
“There is no evidence that expositively proves guilt. [The prosecution’s case] does nothing but fall short of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
With the concluding statements by Mr. Lankler on Tuesday morning and Ms. Kelly on Tuesday afternoon, the case against Mr. Lee is now in the hands of Judge Kahn, whom the defense left as the sole arbiter of Mr. Lee’s guilt when it waived his right to a jury trial.
Before Mr. Lankler began his summation, Judge Kahn asked the prosecutors if there were any lesser charges which they would like the judge to consider were she not be able to find Mr. Lee guilty of rape in the first degree. Ms. Kelly declined.
Mr. Lee does face two lesser charges, assault in the third degree and sexual misconduct, both misdemeanors. Judge Kahn noted that the legal test for guilt in both rape in the first degree and sexual misconduct are similar enough that the verdict in one would be the same for the other.
If found guilty of first degree rape, Mr. Lee faces up to 25 years in prison.
The trial has revolved around the interactions between Mr. Lee, celebrating his 37th birthday at the time; a friend of his named Rene Duncan; the victim, an Irish college student who returned to America to testify: and her brother and two other friends, one male and one female.
The six met at the Georgica nightclub, less than a mile from the Wainscott house that Mr. Lee was renting as a summer retreat. Sometime around 4 a.m., the six and two other men left the nightclub and went to Mr. Lee’s house, where the two young women stripped to their underwear and jumped into the swimming pool. Two hours later, the alleged victim, who was 20 at the time, said that a naked Mr. Lee forced his way into a bathroom of the house where she was putting on the dress she’d worn the night before, knocked her to the ground and held her down while he raped her.
The defense has said that the sex was consensual, and on Tuesday Mr. Lankler implied that the Irishwoman had made up the assault story to protect herself from the ire of her brother for having had sex with a married “older man of Asian descent.”
Mr. Lankler claimed that the bruises and scratches noted by a forensic nurse on the young woman’s body hours after the alleged assault were pre-existing and pointed to the absence of any bruising or abrasions on the woman’s wrists, by which she said Mr. Lee had held her down, or around her mouth, where she said Mr. Lee had clamped his hand so hard to keep her from screaming that she couldn’t even open her mouth in an attempt to bite him.
And although the young woman said she had given herself a long scratch across her leg with her long press-on nails, Mr. Lankler noted, a physical examination of Mr. Lee the same day had revealed no scratches or other signs of the sort of physical struggle the woman had described.
The defense attorney noted that the young woman had testified that she screamed for help several times during the encounter, but pointed out that none of the other people in the house heard any noise, despite some of them having been as close to the bathroom as 10 or 20 feet, Mr. Lankler claimed.
Mr. Lankler also pointed to testimoney offered to the Grand Jury by one of the Irish students, that Mr. Lee had at some point in the morning offered to give them a ride back to Montauk himself.
“If Mr. Lee had raped Dana, the last thing he would want to do is get in a car with these people,” Mr. Lankler said, noting that the brother of the alleged victim is 6-feet 6-inches tall.
The attorney also pointed to Mr. Lee’s addressing the police when they first arrived at his house about 6:30 a.m. that morning to investigate a report by Mr. Duncan that his car had been stolen—he’d lent it to one of the Irish students who had left the house earlier in the morning. Mr. Lankler said that his doing so indicated he was not worried he was about to be accused of rape. The prosecution has said he was trying to get the police to leave before they coudl speak to the young Irish woman.
Mr. Lankler also claimed that Mr. Lee had not been hiding in the backseat of his Ranger Rover, where police disovered him after he disappeared from the house’s driveway when East Hampton Town Police Officer Sarah Mortensend, rather, had gone their to remove himself from the loud discord being caused by his drunken friend but had chosen a “strategic vantage point” from which to observe the interaction with police officers.
When discoverd in the backseat of the vehicle by police some two hours after they first arrived, Mr. Lee said he had fallen asleep.
Phone records showed that in the time between his interactions with officers, Mr. Lee had made several phone calls to cab companies and friends, the contexts of which are a point of disagreement between the defense and prosecution.
Mr. Lankler said that Mr. Lee had been trying to get a cab to come to the house to take the three Irish students back to Montauk. An East Hampton taxi dispatcher testified early in the trial that the person that called had asked for a tax to the Surf Lodge, the Montauk club and hotel where the alleged victim’s brother worked and where the two girls were staying.
“When you add it all up, it’s overwhelming,” Mr. Lankler said, his voice rising to the crescendo of his summation. “The people have utterly failed to prove their case and the only conclusion that can be reached is that Mr. Lee is not guilty.”