YS rape trial concludes— Defendant found not guilty
- Published: October 10, 2019
Jacob Pflanzer, formerly of Yellow Springs, was found not guilty on multiple counts of rape by a Greene County jury late Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 25, following a three-day trial in Xenia.
“I’m glad that the truth came out, finally,” Pflanzer, 29, said when asked for comment outside the courtroom after the not guilty verdicts were read.
Pflanzer was accused of sexually assaulting a then-20-year-old Kettering woman at his South Stafford Street home in April 2018.
The jury — of eight women and four men — deliberated for three hours to reach its verdict. Judge Steven A. Wolaver presided over the trial, held in Greene County Court of Common Pleas.
Yellow Springs police conducted the investigation and brought charges against Pflanzer, who was indicted on four counts of rape and one count of gross sexual imposition, and jailed for a month before posting bond.
At trial, Pflanzer’s attorney, Adam Arnold of Dayton, told jurors that the sexual conduct that took place was consensual, and that the case came down to the “credibility of witnesses.”
“Was the sex consensual or not? That’s what this case is about,” Arnold said.
YSPD Sgt. Naomi Watson, who in her 12 years with the department has not had a sexual assault case go to trial, nor an indicted suspect acquitted, said this week that hearing the verdict was “tough.” She works on about three sexual assault cases per year.
“I was very sad,” Watson said. “I feel horrible for the victim. I don’t think it was a lie at all.”
Greene County Assistant Prosecutor Cheri Stout said by phone this week that the outcome was frustrating, but she wasn’t surprised it went to trial.
“These cases often do [go to trial] when you have a consensual/non-consensual situation,” she said. “It’s up to the jury to make a determination about credibility.”
As for bringing charges in the case, Stout added, “We believed the victim and went forward.”
Arnold said by phone that the verdict is what the defense team “expected from the get go.”
“Mr. Pflanzer’s story has never changed.” Arnold said. “We got his story out to the jury. Obviously they sided with his version of events.”
Arnold added that the defense did not engage in plea negotiations because they were certain of the outcome.
“It was going to be a dismissal of the case or a not guilty verdict,” Arnold said.
The Yellow Springs Police Department became involved in the case after receiving a call from Kettering Medical Center at 8:05 a.m. April 8, 2018, regarding an alleged assault in Yellow Springs. The woman was an acquaintance of Pflanzer, according to dispatch records. The case was assigned to Sgt. Watson, who first met with the woman on April 9, 2019, at the Kettering Police Department.
Watson then obtained a search warrant and interviewed Pflanzer, who told her the sexual encounter was consensual. She continued investigating due to injuries, including scratches and bite marks, documented in a nurse examination the morning after the incident.
DNA testing, which took several months, confirmed Pflanzer’s involvement. Watson then pursued one charge of rape, but prosecutors filed a secret indictment against him Nov. 2, 2018, on four counts of rape, a first-degree felony (for four separate sexual acts) and one count of gross sexual imposition, a fourth-degree felony. Pflanzer, then 28, was arrested by Xenia police on Nov. 8.
Pflanzer was released on bond on Dec. 4, and reportedly moved out of the village while awaiting trial, according to Watson.
The trial began on Monday, Sept. 23, and Sgt. Watson sat with Greene County assistant prosecutors David Morrison and Cheri Stout for the duration.
Defense attorney Arnold argued there were inconsistencies in the woman’s story, that the woman’s physical build relative to the accused suggested she could have resisted unwanted sexual contact and that the YSPD investigation was incomplete.
“At one point in time, one says this is consensual, one says it isn’t. You’re going to see that the story doesn’t make sense, it changes, there are major parts of the story that are missing,” Arnold said in his opening statement.
The state presented physical evidence showing injuries they argued were consistent with sexual assault, including photos.
“She’s telling him no, she’s saying ouch, she’s conveying pain,” Morrison explained of the encounter in his opening statement.
“I felt taken advantage of,” the woman said in her testimony.
In her testimony, the woman said that around 3 a.m., April 8, 2018, she drove from Kettering to Pflanzer’s home in Yellow Springs for what she thought was a gathering of friends. Instead she said she found only Pflanzer there, along with one other person who was asleep on the couch. The woman described him pushing her against a kitchen countertop and then into his bedroom, where she said he held her down by the wrists during the alleged assault. She added that she was crying and telling him to stop while “frozen” in panic.
The next morning, the woman went to the Kettering Medical Center, where she received an extensive exam from a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE nurse. The nurse testified at trial that the woman was wearing “torn, soiled clothing” and was “hysterical, disheveled, tearful and cooperative.”
Pflanzer did not testify, but said in a phone call with the woman, conducted the day after the incident with Yellow Springs police listening without his knowledge, that he did not hear her say no or cry during the incident.
“I didn’t notice. I apologize,” Pflanzer said during the controlled call. “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
And in a later interview with YSPD, he told Sgt. Watson that the woman did not push him away, according to the defense. He also contended that the acts were consensual, and that afterward the two discussed keeping the encounter a secret from their significant others.
In court, Prosecutor Morrison challenged that argument.
“It’s so much easier to not say a word than to sustain a lie for 18 months about someone she knows is innocent.”
But Arnold, the defense attorney, argued that once the woman “got the ball rolling” she continued the lie. And a Jamestown business owner testified that the woman asked for a job at the same firm at which Pflanzer worked, both before and after the incident.
“She says she’s terrified [of Pflanzer] but she applied to work in the same building,” Arnold said in his closing statement.
During the trial, defense attorney Arnold also criticized the YSPD investigation as flawed. He argued that additional photos of the woman were not included in investigation documents, the witness asleep on the couch was not interviewed and the woman’s boyfriend was not asked to provide a statement, among other issues cited.
“The investigation was incomplete, if you can call it an investigation,” Arnold said in his closing statement.
“Sergeant Watson didn’t want to hear anything that went against what [the woman] said,” he added.
In response to the criticisms, Watson said that she “didn’t jump to conclusions,” but that the evidence, especially the injuries documented in the examination, convinced her to bring charges.
“It was he said/she said, except for her external injuries,” Watson said. Recounting the early days of the investigation, she added, “But at this point I can’t jump to any conclusions.”
Asked about the defense argument, Assistant Prosecutor Stout said that challenging the investigation is “not unusual.”
“A defense attorney’s job is to deflect the facts and so honing in on the investigation is a tactic they often take,” Stout said. “The investigation is a convenient scapegoat.”
The YSPD investigation file was not released by press time because the department had not yet received a final notice from the court closing the case.
Concerning one of the criticisms, Watson said additional photos of injuries sent to her were initially blocked by the Village’s firewall because of their graphic nature, Watson said. When Watson later accessed them, they didn’t show anything different from the photos taken during the examination at the Kettering Medical Center the morning after the incident, she said.
Reached by phone for comment after the verdict, Yellow Springs Police Chief Brian Carlson said he stood by the quality of the local police department’s investigation. He added that sexual assault cases are a specialty for Watson. Watson later added that she has done “extensive training” in the area.
One issue with the investigation cited by jurors, according to Watson, was the quality of the audio recording of Watson’s interview with Pflanzer at the YSPD offices.
“They wanted to try to listen to the interview again,” Watson said of jurors during their deliberation. However, they complained that it was difficult to hear. Watson said the recording equipment has long needed to be replaced.
According to Carlson this week, the YSPD would be including a request for funds for new recording equipment in next year’s budget.