Taylor Charles Pearce, of Helena, was acquitted on felony charges of sexual intercourse without consent and kidnapping late Thursday evening.
A jury deliberated for approximately four hours before returning a verdict of not guilty on both counts.
Pearce's trial lasted for four days in the court of Judge Mike McMahon. The charges stemmed from an incident that was alleged to have taken place on July 14, 2019.
Both the prosecution and defense relied heavily on witness testimony during the trial as little physical evidence existed to support or refute that a rape or kidnapping took place. The defense had Pearce testify on his own behalf and the prosecution had testimony from the the woman who said he raped her.
There was no dispute regarding whether or not the sex itself took place, rather the accusations were based on whether or not consent was given.
The prosecution, led by county attorney Leo Gallagher, hinged on an emotional testimony from the woman. She told the jury that she had brought children’s clothes to Pearce’s house on the night of the incident. When she told him about another man she was seeing and then attempted to leave, she alleged that Pearce forced her down the hallway, pinned her arm behind her head and raped her.
Pearce told the jury that the sex was consensual. That she went to his bedroom before he followed her in there after watching a movie. He claimed they laid in bed talking before eventually having sex and that there was more than one incident of intercourse during that night. Pearce said he was unaware of any issue after the woman left, until the following day when she told him she was filing rape charges.
These two differing accounts of the incident were largely what the jury had to go on when deliberating.
A rape kit was collected from the woman. However, this only indicated that sex took place. The woman had no visual injury on her body at that time. Testimony regarding the collection of the rape kit was provided by Janine Vogely-Turner, a nurse in the emergency department at St. Peter’s Health.
Vogely-Turner said during her testimony that the woman was distressed at the time of the collection of the rape kit.
Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s Deputy Cody Colbert, the deputy who would ultimately arrest Pearce on July 25, 2019, also provided testimony and suggested that the invasive nature of collecting material for a rape kit is something most people wouldn’t go through to uphold a lie.
The prosecution painted the picture of Pearce as a manipulator who liked to assert power and control. Gallagher said that pursuing rape charges are “embarrassing and humiliating” for victims, but the woman went through all that regardless.
The defense’s case painted the woman as the manipulator in this situation. Kathleen Jensen, with Helena's Office of Public Defenders, led the defense and suggested that it was the woman’s extreme jealously of Pearce’s relationship with the mother of his children and his continuing to see her that prompted the allegations.
Jensen said the defense failed to prove anything and in fact failed to properly investigate the case. She said the defense never looked at the trailer where the alleged rape took place. She noted the absence of the investigating detective as a witness and the lack of potential evidence collected such as bed sheets.
“You are all that stands between the government and a powerless man,” Jensen said. “We are not here to make a moral judgement.”
Gallagher’s closing statement appealed to the jury’s sense of responsibility and asked that they believe the woman. Gallagher said it would be difficult to believe that a person would go through all this just to uphold a lie about rape charges.
During closing statements, Jensen focused on the fact that Gallagher’s closing statement attacked Pearce’s character rather than pointing out evidence that suggested Pearce committed these crimes.
Judge McMahon said this is the kind of case where someone sat on the bench and lied, but it was up to the jury to determine who.
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