JEFFERSON — After more than two hours of deliberation, a Jefferson County jury on Tuesday found 44-year-old Miguel Rodriguez of Jefferson not guilty of third-degree sexual assault.
Tears filled the courtroom after Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Bennett Brantmeier read the verdict at about 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Rodriguez’s sobs of relief echoed through the courtroom as Brantmeier polled all 12 jurors on their vote.
“I just want to go forward,” Rodriguez said after the trial ended. “It was a horrible two years of my life. I’m just going to keep living my life normal, like I used to.”
Emotion also was coming from the accuser and from Rodriguez’ large group of supporters, who included his children.
Rodriguez had been accused of continuing to have sex with a then-20-year-old woman after she had revoked consent during a 2017 encounter. Defense attorney Donna Kuchler was able to prove otherwise.
In her closing statement, Kuchler argued that the case was not about consent; rather, it was about the woman regretting what she had done with a much older man.
“This is a case of regret,” Kuchler said. “When (the accuser) made it clear to him she didn’t want to go further, he stopped. If he had an intent to rape this woman, he would have finished.”
Kuchler, in her final arguments, honed in on what she said Rodriguez would have known in those moments in his bedroom in June of 2017.
“We’re not mind readers,” Kuchler said.
But she again and again repeated that if Rodriguez had gone into the bedroom with the accuser with the intent of sexual assaulting her, he would have ejaculated.
While there was no semen found during an examination after the incident, emission of semen is not required for an assault to have occurred.
“What dude doesn’t finish the job?” Kuchler asked the jury of eight women and four men.
Jefferson County Assistant District Attorney Brookellen Teuber told the jury in her closing arguments that what Kuchler was saying was all “window dressing.” She said that the only two points that mattered when determining Rodriguez’s guilt or innocence was whether the two had sex, and whether or not she gave consent.
Teuber said much of the encounter between Rodriguez and the accuser was consensual — up until the moment it wasn’t.
“She can walk into his room. She can sit on his bed. She can lay on his bed. She can kiss him. She can touch him. She can allow him to kiss and touch her. Clothing can be removed. Conduct can continue,” Teuber said. “As a 20-year-old, inexperienced young lady with a 40-year-old man, she can take a moment to decide if this is really where she wants to go. Whatever that next step might be.”
Teuber told the jurors they should ignore testimony that Rodriguez was a “nice guy,” and whatever activities in which he and the woman had engaged in previously. She told the jurors that the only word that mattered was “no.”
“She changed her mind,” Teuber said. “He doesn’t get to push her up and over the edge; he doesn’t get to take away her ability to consent.”
Earlier Tuesday, Teuber tried to build a web of corroboration around what the accuser had said in her testimony Monday.
Testifying Tuesday morning for the prosecution were former City of Jefferson Police Officer Matthew Bottoni, Wisconsin State Crime Lab DNA analyst Sarah Vesper, and the accuser’s best friends, a woman and a man.
The two friends testified to what the accuser told them and did with them after the incident.
The female friend was the first person the accuser called after the incident happened June 20, 2017. She said the woman came to her apartment immediately after the incident, adding that the woman was acting strange.
“She seemed lost,” the friend said. “It was as if she wasn’t there, almost eerie.”
She said she and another friend encouraged the woman to go the hospital to have a sexual assault examination done and report the incident to the police.
When that decision finally was made, according to the friend, it was the woman’s decision. But she had a lot of other considerations floating through her mind.
“In the end, it was her (decision),” the friend said. “She didn’t want anybody getting in trouble.”
But this guidance from the female friend gave Kuchler an opening. She suggested to the jury during cross-examination of the friend and in her closing argument that the friend was pushing the woman to report the incident not because she thought an assault had occurred, but because she thought hooking up with the father of a high school classmate was “icky.”
This argument was strengthened later in the day when, during Bottoni’s testimony, the jury learned that the female friend and the other friend had done much of the talking in the initial police interview with the accuser.
Bottoni’s testimony revolved around that interview the accuser had with him the day after the incident and two interviews he had with Rodriguez.
One of those interviews occurred outside of Rodriguez’s home and was caught on Bottoni’s body camera. As the video played, Rodriguez — who had spent most of the trial sitting straight up as he looked forward — leaned forward and put his face in his hands.
The video showed Bottoni and Rodriguez talking for a few minutes before Rodriguez was handcuffed and placed under arrest. While the two talked, Rodriguez said a few times that he’d heard the woman say “no.”
“She said ‘no,’ but she kept going,” Rodriguez says in the video.
That “she kept going,” is what Kuchler focused on.
In Rodriguez’s initial statement, he told Bottoni that the woman had been touching herself even after she said “no.” Kuchler used this to show that the woman’s statements weren’t clear.
“Sometimes ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no,’” Kuchler said. “Isn’t there a different kind of ‘no’?”
Bottoni, during Teuber’s redirect examination, said this didn’t matter.
“He heard her say ‘no,’” Bottoni said. “But he continued.”
After Bottoni’s testimony, Paul Camacho, a Jefferson resident who the police had used to translate Rodriguez’ written statement to police, got on the stand.
But, after it was revealed during Camacho’s testimony that his wife — not himself — had typed the translated statement, his entire testimony and the translation were stricken from the record.
The translation was stricken because Rodriguez’ original written statement in Spanish— which filled three pages — had been written in one long sentence with no punctuation or paragraph breaks.
Camacho said this style is common for people speaking a Mexican-based dialect of Spanish.
However, the translated English version of the statement had sentences and grammar marks added, which, according to Kuchler, changed some of the meaning.
This revelation ended Camacho’s testimony and prevented a translation of Rodriguez’s written statement from being entered into the evidentiary record.
After Camacho, Vesper took the stand. She testified that Rodriguez’ DNA was found on the woman, although that didn’t prove the assault because it was established the two had some consensual contact.
After Vesper, the state rested its case and Kuchler called Jackie Luengas, Stephanie Luengas and Ashley Rodriguez as witnesses.
Rodriguez — Miguel’s daughter — and both Luengas women were residing in the home at the time of the assault.
All three defense witnesses testified to the character of Rodriguez.
After the trial, Kuchler said she was “very pleased” with the result.
Teuber declined to comment after the verdict.