On September 5, 2003, a 15-year-old girl called police to report that she had been raped by two other teenagers beside a swimming pool at an apartment complex in Stuart, Florida.
She identified her attackers as 18-year-old Martin Lyke and 16-year-old Kenneth Atkins. She said that she was on a lounge chair near the pool and that Lyke forced her to engage in oral sex while Atkins straddled the chair and raped her. A condom was found nearby that had traces of the DNA of the victim and of Atkins.
Three weeks later, Lyke and Atkins were charged with sexual battery by multiple perpetrators. Atkins was charged as an adult.
Lyke pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six years in prison. Atkins went on trial in Martin County Circuit Court in July 2004.
The victim testified that she was staying overnight with a girlfriend in the apartment complex and that they went to a teen party in another apartment. She said there was a keg of beer and that she consumed two cups of beer. She said that she walked to the pool sometime after midnight with Atkins and Lyke and that she was assaulted on a chaise lounge.
Under Florida law, even though the alleged victim was 15 at the time of the events, the decision by prosecutors to charge Atkins, as an adult, with sexual battery by multiple perpetrators opened the door to a defense that the sexual contact between the parties was consensual.
Atkins testified that the girl was highly intoxicated and that he had digitally penetrated her, with her consent, and had then put on a condom. He said the victim then said she wanted to go no further, so he took off the condom and left. The defense argued that Atkins transferred the victim’s DNA to the condom when he removed it with the finger he had used to penetrate her.
The defense called the victim’s friend, Jamie Doctor, who testified that the victim had been drinking rum and ingesting drugs on the night of the incident. Doctor said the victim had removed the top of her bathing suit and “put on a show for everybody” and that after the incident, the victim was not crying and did not appear upset at all.
The prosecution then played a tape recording the victim had made of a telephone conversation she had with Doctor not long after the incident. In that conversation, Doctor said that she had confronted Atkins and told him that she hated him. Doctor also was heard to say that she had told Atkins that she had informed other people who had been at the party that he had raped the victim.
On July 24, 2004, a jury convicted Atkins and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In March 2006, the Florida Appeals Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the recording of the telephone conversation between the victim and Doctor was not made for the purpose of obtaining evidence of a criminal act, and therefore was inadmissible as evidence.
Atkins went on trial a second time in December 2008. The victim again described how Atkins raped her. Atkins again denied raping her and said that when she had said she wanted to stop, he stopped.
Atkins retained a new attorney for second trial who for the first time focused on the chaise lounge chair on which the victim said she was attacked. That lawyer, Jerome Stone, showed the jury a lounge chair that was similar to the chair that the victim said she was reclining on when she was raped.
Stone demonstrated that it would have been physically impossible for Atkins to have straddled the lounge chair and still penetrate the victim with his penis, due to the height of the armrests.
On December 12, 2008, after 90 minutes of deliberation, the jury acquitted Atkins and he was released.
– Maurice Possley