Tyler Welch Randall’s jury trial began Jan. 30. Randall faced a charge of rape in the first degree by force or fear.
Assistant District Attorney Mary Hill made the opening statement for the state.
“You’re a smart group. I only want to highlight for you what will happen. I anticipate you will hear that a young lady who got out of school for the summer came to visit a friend. She is going to tell you she was 14 or 15 when she met Tyler Randall. He flirted and acted interested. He said he was younger than he was,” said Hill.
She continued to paint a picture of the young girl, Maria Sanford, who was asked to go on a walk and ended up alone in a home with Randall.
“Many people think rape is about sex, really it’s about power and control. Nobody tells the defendant what to do,” Hill said.
Randall, wearing a gray pin striped suit, held the same stoic expression through opening statements from both the state and his attorney.
Jacqueline Rhodes represented Randall and asked the jury to keep an open mind during her opening statement.
“Do these charges sound bad? Yes, but that doesn’t mean he’s guilty. There are two sides to every story,” said Rhodes.
She described how Sanford went with Randall willingly and at no point tried to leave. She said during questioning with Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Davis, Randall requested an attorney multiple times.
“Put your emotion aside and be objective. Your job is to determine if you have the full, correct picture. Once you do that, I think you’ll determine he is not guilty,” Rhodes said.
The alleged victim was called as the first witness for the state.
The defendant’s demeanor changed drastically when she entered the room. Randall averted his eyes and put his hands on his temples.
Through her questioning Hill ascertained that Sanford met the defendant through a mutual acquaintance and that the incident in question occurred June 23 or 24. She said that Randall was aware of her age and that he said he was 17 at the time.
When Hill asked if Sanford recalled anything disturbing taking place during that time she simply, tearfully, stated, “I was raped.”
Guided by questioning from Hill, Sanford described details from the alleged event.
Randall invited Sanford to walk to the lake, but led her to an empty house instead. The couple watched the first few minutes of a movie before he “gently grabbed her hand” and led her to the bedroom, according to Sanford. She recalls crossing her legs and pushing him away, telling him no several times.
Afterwards, Randall offered to walk her home. She “was a little terrified so she said yes.”
Hill asked why she waited a full week before reporting the incident to anyone.
“I blamed myself. I thought it was my fault. I still sorta do. I think I led him on,” said a tearful Sanford.
Rhodes asked Sandford if she flirted or kissed Randall prior to the event, and if he left hickeys on her. Sanford answered no.
Rhodes established that the defendant took his pants off prior to getting on the bed and that Sanford did not leave or ask him to get dressed. Rhodes asked if he removed his boxers at the same time.
“I think he took his pants off first, then his boxers later but I wasn’t quite paying attention. I was preoccupied, thinking,” said Sanford.
Rhodes and Sanford discussed the layout of the room, and that Sanford was closest to the door.
Sanford was asked if she interacted with Randall after the alleged rape.
“We hung out once the next night because I didn’t want anyone else to know anything had happened,” said Sanford.
A discussion over the discrepancy regarding the date the event occurred began. Sanford had just testified the event was either June 23 or 24. Hill read the notes from the preliminary hearing in which Sanford testified the incident happened between May 12 and the middle of June. She was asked if it was possible it could have happened in May. She answered no. Davis reported his investigation as beginning June 18.
Davis was the next witness for the state. Hill played the recorded conversation for the jury. On the tape, Randall asked why the issue was just coming up as the event had happened two months prior. Davis said Randall was 21 at the time and Sanford was 15, Randall defended himself.
“Since her parents knew we were dating, it was OK to date her. The accusation is forcible rape, that’s not the case. We were dating,” said Randall. “There’s nothing ya’ll can do. I talked to her mom. She knew we’d been kissing and stuff. Why would they not have said something if they thought it was a big deal?”
Davis explained that while the parents may have given consent for him to date Sanford, sexual intercourse with a minor is still, by law, considered rape.
“How is it rape if I talked to her parents?” said Randall.
When Rhodes questioned Davis, she said he was in an unmarked vehicle and not in uniform. The rest of her questioning regarded Randall’s repeated request to have an attorney present for the conversation.
The validity of Davis’ “evidence based training” was discussed.
Rhodes outlined that there was no physical evidence in this case.
“There was no DNA, and no rape kit was done. The state would have you believe there is no evidence because the case is strong enough that it isn’t needed. This isn’t the case. There is no physical evidence in this case because there is truly no evidence,” said Rhodes. “It’s the accusation of one woman, that’s it.”
On day two of the trial Rhodes begian by calling Angel Morris, a local business owner and Randall’s cousin, to the stand.
Morris was a character witness.
He said he had no first hand knowledge of the event and was dismissed.
Both attorneys spent time outlining the three qualifications that must be met for first degree rape; 1. sexual intercourse 2. with a person who is not the spouse 3. presence or threat of force or violence.
On the second day of trial, the jury was asked to also consider charges of rape in the second degree. The difference, the judge explained, is that the third requirement to find a person guilty of second degree rape is that the victim is under the age of 16.
“This has not been a long case. Ya’ll get it. You have the law which you have promised to follow,” said Hill in her closing statement.
“There is no argument that sex occurred. There is no argument that she is not the spouse. There is no argument that she was under 16 years of age.”
Hill said it was up to the jury to determine if the requirements for force or violence had been met.
“This is your decision, jury,” Rhodes said in her closing remarks. “The state talked about the age difference. This doesn’t mean he know her age at the tine of the incident, it is entirely possible that he did not find out until later,” said Rhodes.
“The state keeps saying ‘nobody tells him what to do.’ But you don’t know him. He is presumed innocent. Ask yourself, have they proven each and every element?”
Rhodes discussed the inconsistency of dates, saying people generally remember traumatic events eight months afterwards.
“If you were raped by force or fear, would you voluntarily go with him the next day? No. Again, put your emotions aside and approach this logically,” said Rhodes. “Isn’t it possible her guardian found out and her story changed? Kids tell stories to get out of trouble.”
Rhodes said the state provided no evidence on Randall’s physical condition that would satisfy the question of force.
“I anticipate Ms. Hill is going to get back up and give you a passionate statement. Whatever emotion that leaves you with, place that emotion aside because this man’s freedom is on the line. He deserves logic, reason and subjectivity.” said Rhodes.
Hill concluded by saying, “Whether it was rape one or two, the defendant is a rapist.”
After deliberation, the jury found Randall guilty of rape in the second degree. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and a $2,000 fine.