HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — The 12 members of a Henrico jury could not reach a verdict Thursday in the case of a middle school gym teacher accused of sexually assaulting a student in March 2017.
After nearly four hours of deliberation, it became clear that the jury would not be able to reach a unanimous decision on the charge of indecent liberties by a custodian or the charge of object sexual penetration, the two offenses Dean Lakey was accused of.
The last day of Dean Lakey’s trial began in earnest at 10:17 a.m., after the court dispensed with a defense motion and accepted 18 jury instructions agreed upon by both the prosecution and defense.
The instructions were designed to inform the jury of their obligations and of the specific points of law they would need to consider in rendering their verdict. They were instructed on the presumption of innocence, on their responsibility to judge for themselves the credibility of witnesses, and of the exact definitions of the two charges brought against Lakey.
In closing arguments, the commonwealth and the defense both largely reiterated points they had made throughout the previous two days of trial, making a final attempt to persuade the jury.
The commonwealth’s attorney, Kelly Cotting, emphasized, in particular, the fact that the jury was permitted, if necessary, to convict on the testimony of the victim alone if they found her credible.
“If you in your gut, in your heart believe her,” Cotting said. “That is enough.”
Cotting also argued that Lakey was an unreliable witness in his own defense, pointing to his failure to cooperate with investigators and gaps in his accounting for time in March 2017.
Lakey’s attorney, Craig Cooley, on the other hand, focused on the fact that the victim was the only direct witness to the alleged assault.
“This is a case of zero corroboration,” Cooley said. “Of a bald and false accusation.”
Cooley also questioned the credibility of the victim, returning to apparent inconsistencies in her disclosures of the assault at different times. He also ventured what he said was a possible motive for the victim to make a false accusation against Lakey.
“If she’s a rape victim,” he said. “Everyone will be sorry for her. Everyone will be proud of her.”
As the defense’s closing arguments concluded, Cooley called the accusation a “terrible injustice” that would stay with Lakey for the rest of his life, even if the jury found him not guilty. Lakey, who had until then maintained a neutral expression, began briefly to sob at the defense table.
The commonwealth was then given the opportunity for a brief rebuttal, during which Cotting asked the jury to use their common sense in deciding whether the victim’s testimony should be considered unreliable on the basis of inconsistencies in peripheral details.
“What does reasonable doubt look like in a case where the only witness is a child?” she asked.
The jury left the court just after noon, to be sequestered alone in a room with the evidence presented to them and their own thoughts on the case.
For a little less than three hours, the jury deliberated.
Then, at 2:55 p.m., they informed the judge that they had been unable to reach a verdict on either charge. The judge then delivered to them the Allen Charge, additional instructions urging the jurors to make every effort to reach a unanimous agreement by approaching each other with an open mind, while cautioning them not to agree to a verdict they did not believe in simply so that the jury could reach a decision.
The jury then deliberated for another hour, before once again telling the court that no verdict had been reached on either charge. When asked by the judge whether they believed further deliberations would help them reach a verdict, the foreperson of the jury responded, “No, I don’t think so.”
Around 4 p.m., the judge declared a mistrial, and set a status hearing for June 23, opening the possibility of a retrial. It was decided that Lakey would be released on his own recognizance, with no court-ordered monitoring, until that date. Shortly thereafter, the court was adjourned.