Jury says not guilty;

Wanda English Burnett

It was a story of “she said, he said” and in the end the jury had the final say.

Tyler James Johnson, 22, of the Napoleon area, had been charged with Rape, a Class A felony; Criminal Confinement a Class B felony; and Neglect of a Dependent, a Class D felony.

Jurors took less than two hours to decide Johnson was not guilty of the rape and confinement charges, and found him only guilty of Neglect of a Dependent.

Throughout the two-day trial, testimony was heard from the victim, Johnson’s wife, Sheldon, Detective Tracy Rohlfing of the Indiana State Police and the defendant.

According to all involved, the event took place July 9, 2010, when Johnson came home from work early to find his wife talking with another man on the telephone. He said he grabbed her by the neck, threw her down on the couch and then the story changed, depending on who was telling it.

The victim said he (Johnson) dragged her by the neck to the kitchen where he got a large knife out of the drawer and waved it in the air saying he was going to kill the man she was talking on the phone with. As the victim testified, she said she was “just terrified” throughout the ordeal.

The defendant said he didn’t force her to do anything. He said he did get a knife and waved it in the air. Then he said he told her to drive him to her boyfriend’s home because he wanted to kill him. He said he didn’t know where the boyfriend lived, and that’s why he told her to drive him there.

The two left the home where their two-year-old daughter was sleeping alone.

They traveled for a distance before Johnson told his wife to pull over. She pulled the car to the side of the road and then drove down the road a way. He then told her he wanted to have sex with her one more time before he went to jail. He said he knew he would go to jail for a long time for murder.

The victim told how she didn’t want to have sex with him, but he had a knife and she was afraid.
Through a lot of testimony, the couple each told their rendition of the sex act. Then, they told how they had traveled on to where the boyfriend lived in Westport. There in a parking lot near the boyfriend’s apartment, the victim was able to convince Johnson to go back home and not commit the act of murder he was intent on. The victim told that Johnson wanted her to lure her boyfriend out of the apartment so he (Johnson) could slit his throat. Johnson admitted he wanted to watch him die a slow death because he (Johnson) was so hurt about the whole situation.

The victim told Johnson he would never see his daughter grow up if he was in prison and wouldn’t be able to walk her down the aisle when she got married. Johnson said he thought about all of that and then decided against the murder.

They told how they drove back to their place of residence, spent the night, got up the next day and went their separate ways. That night, after telling a friend at work and calling the boyfriend, the victim went to the police.

Throughout the trial the defense questioned the victim several times about the affair she was having with the other man. She said she wanted out of the marriage, but due to her family’s religious beliefs, was afraid.

A tape recording of the defendant’s statement to police was played for the jury. In the taped message, Johnson said he grabbed his wife’s neck. He said he was intent on killing this other man. “I thought he’d done me wrong,” he said. About the sex act on the side of the road, Johnson said on the tape, “It was not consensual.” In court he told the jury, “She didn’t say no.”

Although by both accounts of the victim and the defendant they had not had a sexual relationship for several months, Johnson maintained he did not rape his wife. Defense attorney John Watson asked, “You do and you did love her?” to which the defendant replied, “Yes.”

Under cross-examination of Johnson, Ripley County Prosecutor Ric Hertel said things had changed in the story Johnson told in court and the one he initially told police. He asked whose idea it was to pull off the road that night. “Mine, sir,” replied Johnson.

Hertel hammered home the fact that the couple had not been intimate in months, so why did he (Johnson) think she would want to be so at that point. “She could have said no,” was the response from Johnson.
Johnson said his wife was trying to hurt him by putting him in “this predicament”.

In closing arguments the prosecution asked “Who is on trial?” He said it felt as though the victim was on trial due to her adulturous behavior. He said, “rape is more than a word, it is a crime. A husband can rape a wife.” He recalled Johnson’s words from the tape when asked if the victim told she had been raped, and he replied, “I wouldn’t be surprised.” He recalled other words such as the defendant saying, “It’s not consensual.” He reminded the jury that Johnson was still armed with the large knife when the sex act took place, thus intimidating the victim further.

The prosecution argued that the victim did not leave the home willingly, but was afraid. He said the crime had a face, the face of the victim. “It’s not a complicated ‘who done it’,” he said. He urged the jury to hold Johnson accountable saying, “he’s earned it.”

Defense attorney Watson said in the beginning of the trial the case was a strange one with a strange set of circumstances. While he said many people might not conduct themselves in this manner, he argued that the victim was never harmed, was not raped, and never had the knife put on her. He said she wasn’t dragged anywhere, and was never threatened.

When the ‘not guilty’ verdict was given on the counts of Rape and Criminal Confinement, there was a sigh of relief from the defendant’s family members who had been in the courtroom for the duration of the trial.

Prosecutor Hertel said he and Detective Tracy Rohlfing were both shocked and disappointed with the verdicts. “I just got off the phone with the victim,” Hertel told The Versailles Republican Wednesday evening. He said that was a hard conversation explaining to her the jury’s decisions.

Sentencing for the Neglect of a Dependent charge has been set for June 20 at 1:00 p.m. in Ripley County Circuit Court.

The couple has divorce proceedings filed.