OLYMPIA — Juror No. 1 from a seven-week rape trial told lawmakers the current system lets accused rapists abuse their victims in the courtroom by acting as their own attorneys and cross-examining rape victims, often for days.
“God forbid anyone has to go through that again,” said Joseph Cook, who drove to Olympia to testify in front of the Judiciary Committee on House Bill 1001, the rape victim shield law proposed by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland).
Cook and others testifying in favor of the reform told lawmakers that defendants such as Salvador Aleman Cruz game the system by acting as their own attorney to intimidate victims into not testifying, and possibly going free — or to control and traumatize rape victims one last time, asking them detailed questions about their attacks and keeping them on the witness stand for days at a time.
The right to represent yourself in court shouldn’t be “converted to a weapon” to abuse and demean victims in the courtroom, said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who said accused rapists weren’t representing themselves in the hopes of being found innocent, because it’s not a winning legal strategy. They’re doing it to intimidate and abuse rape victims, he said.
“It’s ugly to watch,” Satterberg said, “and it demeans the justice system.”
The prosecutor in the Cruz case, Val Richey, told lawmakers that it’s hard enough asking rape victims to testify in court, and that all seven of the victims in that case initially refused to testify once he told them that Cruz himself would be cross-examining them on the witness stand.
“Six out of seven found the strength to testify,” Richey said. “The seventh decided it would be better to end her life than let him control her again. This (legislation) is for her.”
The seventh victim went to the roof of the courthouse with the intention of jumping rather than testify, though she was coaxed down to safety.
There’s no justice if victims won’t testify, said Mary Helen Stone from the King County Sexual Assault Center, who added that the center helps 1,000 rape victims in King County each year, and that each victim finds it hard enough to testify in a normal case. Having accused rapists ask the questions, she said, makes it even more difficult.
Another juror from the Cruz case, Marilyn Finnila, testified that seven-week trial not only traumatized the rape victims who had to testify, but affected everyone in the courtroom.
Finnila herself is seeing a trauma specialist.
“I have images of this man in my house,” Finnila said. She lives near the Y where the attacks began and can no longer drive past it.
Goodman praised the judges, prosecutors, jurors and rape-victim advocates for having the courage to speak out for change.
“We have to protect protects the constitutional rights of the accused — but we also have to safeguard the concept of justice,” Goodman said. “Allowing accused rapists to abuse the courts to intimidate their victims is a perversion of justice that cannot, and will not, stand. We need to preserve order in the court, but we also need to prevent trauma in the court.”
# # #
Rep. Roger Goodman
Staff: Guy Bergstrom