ALFRED — A jury found a former corrections officer not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman who was in custody at a transitional facility where he worked.

Joshua Dall-Leighton, 34, was acquitted Thursday morning of five counts of gross sexual assault. He hugged his family as he left the courtroom, and one woman in their group was sobbing openly. The family left the courthouse with their arms around each other, and defense attorney Neal Weinstein spoke to reporters on their behalf.

“I think it’s absolutely a just and correct verdict,” Weinstein said.

“The jury has found that he has done nothing wrong,” Weinstein said. “He just wants to move on with his life now and get back to what he can do.”

The woman who accused Dall-Leighton of sexually assaulting her was in the courtroom but left at the announcement of the verdict. The prosecutors – York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Daley – said they still believe her.

“She was very brave to come forward under the circumstances, and we hope that this verdict doesn’t deter other victims from coming forward,” McGettigan said.

State law defines any sexual acts between a guard and an inmate as sexual assault. The trial began Monday in York County Superior Court. Eight men and four women sat on the jury, and they deliberated for four hours over two days.

Joshua Dall-Leighton leaves York County Superior Court with a woman whom his uncle described as Dall-Leighton’s girlfriend, after the former prison guard was cleared of all five charges of gross sexual assault Thursday. Staff photo by Derek Davis

While both sides presented other witnesses, the accuser’s testimony was the crux of the case. She described two instances of oral sex and three of sexual intercourse in a prison transport van between December 2015 and February 2016. The courtroom was tense while she was on the witness stand, and the attorneys interrupted each other with frequent objections. Dall-Leighton did not testify in his own defense. 

The prosecutors told the jury that the woman was consistent and detailed in her allegations. They pointed to corroborating evidence such as transport van logbooks, time sheets from the woman’s job and, in particular, explicit text messages between them while she was at home on furlough. Only a few of the texts were read aloud in court, but the jurors considered more than three dozen photographs of their conversations.

During her closing argument, Daley reiterated to the jury that state law makes it a crime for a guard to have any sexual contact with an inmate. She said the woman’s delay in reporting makes sense because she was afraid to jeopardize her privileges or her impending release date.

“You do not have to understand the motive behind either the defendant’s or (the alleged victim’s) actions,” Daley said. “It does not matter if (she) was pressured into sexual contact with the defendant or if she was interested in the defendant. If you find that sexual contact occurred between Joshua Dall-Leighton and (the alleged victim) during the dates listed in the indictment, by virtue of his position as a corrections officer and her status as an inmate, no sexual contact is allowed by law, and you must return verdicts of guilty on all counts.”

But the defense lawyer worked to discredit the woman during her testimony and his closing argument. He repeatedly mentioned her criminal history and a lawsuit she filed against the defendant and others. He also emphasized her delay in reporting and her initial denial when a prison investigator asked her whether she had sexual contact with Dall-Leighton.

He argued that the text messages represented fantasies but no actual history of sexual contact, and he accused her of making up her allegations to manipulate Dall-Leighton and benefit herself financially.

“She has no moral compass,” Weinstein said in his closing argument. “She has these serious felony convictions. … She couldn’t be truthful with anyone if she wanted to be.”

After the verdict, McGettigan said that she and Daley were disappointed that they did not meet the burden of proof for a conviction. She said they might never know why the jury decided as it did, and reiterated her support for victims of alleged sex crimes.

“She was put through a difficult procedure that is not friendly to victims of sexual assault,” McGettigan said. “While the defendant has a right to confront his accusers, it was a difficult trial.”

Weinstein said the case caused Dall-Leighton to lose his job, prompted his divorce and impacted his relationship with his three children. Now, he will be able to get a better job and focus on a new relationship, his attorney said.

“People held him as a pariah and a person they didn’t want to associate with because they assumed there was something he had done wrong,” Weinstein said. “Now all those relationships can be mended.”

Dall-Leighton previously worked at the Southern Maine Re-entry Center in Alfred, which has since moved to Windham. The facility allows women who are near the end of their sentences to go to work, school and home on furlough.

The woman was convicted in January 2012 in Rockland of elevated aggravated assault, robbery and burglary. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but six years suspended. She spent part of that sentence at the re-entry center, where she met Dall-Leighton. Now 34, she was released in 2016 and is on probation. The Portland Press Herald does not identify victims of alleged sex crimes without their consent.

The alleged victim testified that she did not want to have sexual contact with Dall-Leighton. But she said she was afraid to refuse or report him because he had control over her privileges and her release date. So she said she eventually violated facility rules and drank alcohol to force a transfer to the more strict Maine Correctional Center in Windham and get away from him.

She confided in another woman inmate, who made a report and sparked an investigation in May 2016. Dall-Leighton was indicted that November and pleaded not guilty.

He also had been charged with one count of unlawful sexual contact, but the judge dismissed that charge Wednesday before jury deliberations for a lack of evidence. The definition of unlawful sexual contact under state law includes penetration, and the alleged victim did not testify about that for the specific day alleged in the indictment, so the state did not protest the dismissal of that charge.

The charges of gross sexual assault were Class B crimes, or felonies, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

McGettigan, the deputy district attorney, told the judge Monday that the parties had been in plea negotiations before the trial. The state’s final offer in February was a conviction on one count of gross sexual assault. In exchange, Dall-Leighton would have been sentenced to four years in prison with all but one year suspended, and required to register as a sex offender for life. He rejected that offer. Weinstein said later that the requirement to register as a sex offender was unacceptable during the plea negotiations.

The former corrections officer received widespread media attention in June 2015 for donating a kidney to a woman who advertised her need for a new organ in the back window of her car. While the defense wanted to tell the jurors about that gesture as evidence of his character, it was excluded from trial.

The jury did hear mention of a civil case against Dall-Leighton, but they never learned about its current status.

The woman filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Dall-Leighton, as well as the state and prison officials who she said failed to protect her from the assaults. The former guard did not respond to the complaint, meaning he was in default. A federal judge then ordered him to pay $1.1 million to the former inmate, although it is not clear if he can or will pay that sum.

Weinstein said it is still possible for Dall-Leighton to file a motion to reopen the civil case and set aside that judgment.

Ezra Willey, who represents the woman in the civil matter but does not have an active role in the criminal case, said he is pursuing options for his client to collect at least part of that award. The judge also dismissed the lawsuit against the state and the corrections officials, a decision Willey has appealed.

He said Thursday that he did not believe Dall-Leighton could meet his burden to set aside the default judgment and would fight any attempt to do so.

Willey also said he was disappointed with the criminal verdict but hoped the woman could begin to move on with the trial over.

“At the end of the day, she was able to tell her story, and she was able to do it in front of a group of her peers,” he said. “Hopefully, if nothing else, that gave her some form of closure.”

Megan Gray can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemegan

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