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Journal Tribune
Posted
Updated November 8, 2019
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Jury acquits former Maine prison guard of sexually assaulting inmate

A jury finds former corrections officer Joshua Dall-Leighton not guilty of five counts of gross sexual assault. Dall-Leighton leaves court with a woman that his uncle described as his girlfriend after being cleared of all charges. DEREK DAVIS/Portland Press Herald

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 with their group was weeping 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,” the lawyer added. “He just wants to move on with his life now and get back to what he can do.”

The alleged victim 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 considers any sexual acts between a guard and an inmate to be sexual assault. The trial began Monday in York County Superior Court, and the jury deliberated for four hours over two days.

While both sides presented other witnesses, the alleged victim’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. Dall-Leighton did not testify in his own defense.

In her closing argument, Daley told the jury that the alleged victim had been consistent and detailed in her allegations. She pointed to explicit text messages between them as supporting evidence. Only a few were read aloud in court, but the jurors considered more than three dozen photographs of their conversations.

“You do not have to understand the motive behind either the defendant’s or (the alleged 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.”

v Joshua Dall-Leighton

The defense lawyer told the jury she made up the entire story to manipulate Dall-Leighton and benefit herself financially. He argued the texts represented fantasies but no actual history of sexual contact, and he said there was no corroborating evidence like DNA samples.

In his closing argument, he also tried to discredit the alleged victim by repeatedly mentioning her criminal history and a lawsuit she filed against the defendant and others.

“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.”

Dall-Leighton previously worked at the Southern Maine Reentry 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 the 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 had also 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 to that on the specific day alleged in the indictment, so the state did not protest the dismissal of that charge.

Gross sexual assault is a Class B crime, or a felony. Each conviction is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan told the judge on 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.

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.

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.

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