Jury unable to reach verdicts in trial of man accused of attack on his neighbor

Jury unable to reach verdicts in trial of man accused of attack on his neighbor

URBANA — A Champaign County judge Thursday declared a mistrial in the case of a Champaign man accused of a brutal attack on his neighbor in her home last summer.

The four men and eight women on the jury deliberated about nine hours before telling Judge Tom Difanis they couldn't reach unanimous verdicts in the case of Dominique Alexander-Smith, 22, who was charged with home invasion, armed robbery and aggravated criminal sexual assault.

The charges stemmed from his attack Aug. 25 on a 26-year-old woman in her apartment in the 2500 block of West Springfield Avenue. Alexander-Smith lived in a nearby apartment in the same complex at the time.

The woman testified that about 1:30 a.m., he broke through a sliding-glass door on her second-floor balcony, pursued her into her bedroom while armed with a knife, robbed her of a debit card, then raped her repeatedly.

The woman, who was two months pregnant at the time, sustained a swollen cheek and split lip from being hit with a fist and cuts to her hand and legs from trying to get the knife from him. She said she recognized him from living nearby but didn't let on to him that she realized who he was.

The jury saw pictures depicting the broken door, the woman's injuries, and the bent butcher knife, which was left on her bed after the attack.

They also heard that semen taken from the woman contained Alexander-Smith's DNA and saw surveillance video of him at a nearby ATM within minutes of the attack trying unsuccessfully to use a bank card.

Following his arrest later that same day, Alexander-Smith denied knowing the woman, ever being in her apartment or attacking her.

At trial — after evidence of the DNA had been revealed by the prosecution — Alexander-Smith testified that his sexual encounter with her was consensual. He said she let him in her apartment, they talked briefly and he then went to her bedroom for sex. He said afterward, she had a look of regret about her.

Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Weber said the woman was telling the truth and that the evidence supported her testimony, while Assistant Public Defender George Vargas argued that the woman made up the story so her boyfriend wouldn't be upset with her for having sex with another man.

Vargas questioned why the knife wasn't tested for fingerprints and why the woman ran two blocks for help rather than summoning a closer neighbor. He noted she told different details to different police officers.

Weber called Alexander-Smith's testimony about consensual sex "preposterous in the face of all the physical evidence."

"The only knock on her door was him busting through the glass. The only conversation was his demand for money and her begging him not to hurt her. The only sex wasn't what you'd call sex. It was that man exhibiting power over her. There was nothing consensual about it," she said.

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areader wrote on May 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm

They could NOT reach a verdict?????

rsp wrote on May 17, 2012 at 9:05 pm

There have been some cases lately that have looked so cut-and-dried that it just makes you wonder if someone on the jury came in with the intent to vote a certain way from the start. It's not just disagreeing with a verdict either. There have been some cases where there was so much evidence of guilt and still a hung jury? You have to wonder why.

ronaldo wrote on May 17, 2012 at 9:05 pm

So let me get this straight - the animal denies ever knowing the woman or ever having been in her apartment, until of course, the prosectution presents DNA evidence, and his story changes.  So he's lying his whole way through this, and the jury can't come to a decision?  Did I miss something?  I didn't think so.

I hate to say it but I think we need minimum standards of intelligence for jury selection.  And voting.

JWegeng wrote on May 17, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I agree that intelligence tests should be given, but the smart ones would purposely fail.  Maybe we should make sure all jury members have graduated high school, and no GEDS!  This man will strike again just like oj simpson did in a different way, but at least that murderer is behind bars now.  I pray for any woman who crosses his path.

JWegeng wrote on May 17, 2012 at 9:05 pm

NO VERDICT?  People who have disorderly conducts serve more time than this rapist ever will.  WTF, who was on the jury?  Can they be jailed for their incomprehensible crime of no reaching a verdict?  I say give the ones who thought him innocent life, or until his next crime he commits and hopefully gets prison for.  Look out women in his neighborhood, your American courts have put you all at risk.  The only person more guilty is oj simpson, and he ended up commiting another crime.  What a court system!

SaintClarence27 wrote on February 08, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Try again. He got 50 years.

Champaignite wrote on May 17, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I agree, looks pretty simple to me.  I feel particularly sorry for the victim who will likely have to testify again in order for justice to be served.  Very unforunate.

EL YATIRI wrote on May 18, 2012 at 5:05 am
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Why all the comments expressing indignant surprise?  Does anybody still believe that there is Justice in our legal system?

All kinds of guilty ones go free, and all sorts of innocents are wrongly convicted.  

But of course America is exceptional, isn's she?  We have the best legal system in the world don't we?

So let's just show some of our umbrage and outrage and not change anything while repeating to ourselves: "We are exceptional, we are the best"

prideCU wrote on May 18, 2012 at 8:05 am

What in the world does having a GED have to do with anything like this?! I have one because of some previously poor decisions I made and now I am an A and B student in college. Oh, and I am a law-abiding citizen too. You are absurd.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 18, 2012 at 8:05 am

It comes down to jury selection.  If you have ever sat on a jury, and listened to the other jurors; you wonder about "a jury of your peers".  On one jury that I sat on, one of my fellow jurors stated that he "did not like the looks" of the victim.  The victim was a woman in her 50's, and unattractive according to my fellow juror.  It was an open and shut case also.  Tribunals provide better justice. 

prideCU wrote on May 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

I will ask it again, what does having a GED have to do with jury selection? I will actually answer that for you: NOTHING.

JWegeng wrote on May 18, 2012 at 6:05 pm

MOST people with a GED are not of extreme intelligence when it comes to making ANY type of decision.  It is just a fact.  It does not apply to all people, but those who grow up in bad households and go on to a life of bad choices, tend to have a GED or no degree at all.

prideCU wrote on May 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Wow. Stereotype much? I have met quite a few "educated" knuckleheads too. An education does not guarantee wisdom or common sense. Read the paper and often. You will find that university and community college students and even grads commit crimes as well. An education does not guarantee better choices. What, because I have a GED, that is not valid? Do you know the circumstances that led me to drop out and immediately go for the GED? Do you know the circumstances of others who have done the same? I didn't think so. I am a college honor roll student and have never made anything under a "B" and have been in two honors classes, so you hopefully understand why I must resent your attitude and call you out.

sahuoy wrote on May 21, 2012 at 7:05 am

wow and that sort of wisdom has allowed you to vote in the politicians that have given us the status quo wow so much for intelligence and improving the system lol


jmh910 wrote on May 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

I get SO SICK of defense lawyers conjuring up 'you know the sex was consensual - admit it'.  Wonder why so many rape victims don't come forward or won't testify.  When they do, not only do they have to deal with the pain and shame associated with sexual assault, it's a double whammy to have someone say 'you're a liar...etc.'.

The scumbag lied about even KNOWING her, let alone being in her apartment.  Then he has the weak excuse that 'it was consensual' once they're in court. Really?? 

He's also ON VIDEOTAPE using her atm card - unsuccessfully.  Meaning, he didn't have permission to use it, because otherwise, he would have had the correct PIN number!

The defense brings up that the woman gave different details to different officers. The woman had been traumatized, do you expect her to be able to give a play-by-play in complete detail multiple times without possibly missing information or remembering something she hadn't already said?

Like I said before...the scumbag lied about knowing her, being in her apartment, etc.  DNA evidence as well as him on videotape proved that to be a lie.

Hope the jurors are able to sleep at night, knowing that they have victimized the victim all over again and that the scumbag has a chance of being released back into this community.

rsp wrote on May 18, 2012 at 5:05 pm

If she had remembered all the details properly they would have said she wasn't traumatized and therefor it wasn't rape. Juries don't understand rape and how it affects a person and the courts allow lawyers to slander the victims. They should be calling in more experts to educate juries to counter shows like "CSI" and "Law and Order". 

sameeker wrote on May 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

I used to have a sarchastic saying the went "Dumber then a Florida jury" I guess now it will have to be "Dumber then a Champaign jury".

Local Yocal wrote on May 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm
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A word about juries: You would be surprised to know that if you are educated, like have a degree, or work in a professional job, you are more likely to take good notes, and therefore: the prosecutor will use their preemptive challenge to remove you from the jury. True that. Prosectors normally prefer those who are swayed by emotion, not reason. This is the great gamble our system takes, ordinary people get to decide guilt or innocence. It can go wrong in so many ways, and usually it leans toward convicting innocent people. O.J. Simpson was a "payback" trial for the Rodney King trial where the police officers were exonerated despite the videotape. Jury nullification is a constant risk. Nonetheless, it would not be good to have legal tribunals where judges, police and prosecutors get to make all the final decisions. Jurors of ordinary citizens is the one check that balances against tyranny- as our bizarre military detentions of terrorists is proving all too clear. To protect "our way of life", we should be true and exercise our way of life.

Still the "system" can stand some improvement: What might be helpful is if jury deliberations were audio recorded and then written transcripts were made publicly available WITHOUT identifying who the jurors are. (All names and references to themselves would be redacted) This would help prevent wrongful convictions and wrongful exonerations. The transcripts could be used to demand a new trial in cases where jurors failed to consider the evidence or used irrelevant reasons to convict or exonerate. This would open a whole can of worms to develop standards by which new trials could be granted. But were there some public accountability, jurors would be less likely to express stupid reasons to justify their vote: "I don't like the way the defendant looks." "I hate cops." "Let's just get this over with." "If it will get me outta' here to have a cigarette, then fine, I'll vote it your way."

Since Mary Schenk did not quote a police officer testifying at trial, it remains unclear if the jury actually heard that Alexander-Smith had told officers he was never in the apartment. The fact that Alexander-Smith changed his story after he became aware that DNA evidence would place him in the apartment and sex had occured might be a backstory Schenk was given by prosecutors in the hallway. It's not unusual for Schenk to pile on additional evidence against a defendant by repeating prosecutorial gossip that wasn't part of the trial.

What is also inexplicable is, if the state took the time to send lab samples of the defendant's DNA to be tested in Springfield, why the hell didn't they get the knife tested for fingerprints? It may have come back inconclusive since the victim likely touched and smeared the knife up to where the defendant's fingerprints couldn't have been detected, but at least account for everything and follow the evidence where it goes. Leaving it out altogether allowed for Vargas to suggest "law enforcement deliberately didn't do their job- for a reason."

It's not clear either from Schenk's article that the stolen debit card taken from the victim is the same card Alexander-Smith is seen attempting to use. Schenk's bias also failed to note that Alexander-Smith has no criminal history whatsoever. Alexander-Smith has been in jail for 267 days now, at $50.00 a day on your tab, so be there for voir dire during round 2 and watch the trial for yourselves. The other improvement to the system would be 6 new C-span government TV channels: "Courtroom A, Courtroom B, Courtroom C..." 

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Interesting comment.  You obviously followed the known information closely.  Jury duty is not something that one volunteers to do.  You don't raise your hand, and holler: "Pick me, Pick me".  You can not duck it; or an officer will show up at your door.  It is a citizen respondsibility; but it is a pain in the tail also.  I was a juror in Judge Jack Delamar's court.  He very strongly encouraged the jurors to take notes.  You did not go to lunch without wearing your juror identification.  My employer complained to me that I was on a jury like I chose to do it.  I had to catch up on two weeks work that built up during my absence.  I paid my jury pay back to my employer which was fair.  The mileage reimbursement did not cover the cost of the gas going to court daily.  It always amazes me that some people state they would love to serve on a jury.  One of the alternate jurors came in every day; and stated that she hoped someone would get sick so she could be on the jury.  A jury of your peers sounds good; but it depends on who is on the jury.  They are just people like everyone else.  They are bright, dumb, opinionated, biased, liberal, moderate, conservative, wealthy, and poor just like the rest of the population.  I would rather not see court televised.  We are seeing too much justice being decided in the Court of Public Opinion as it is now.

Local Yocal wrote on May 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm
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"You can not duck it; or an officer will show up at your door." That's what they want you to believe. They don't have the manpower or time or jail space or want to insult people from serving by enforcing jury duty in such a way. People who serve on juries cannot be terminated from a job because of absence due to jury duty. It's against the law for any employer to create any kind of sanctions on a person because they were called and did the service. Whether people can duck service doesn't matter, they do. Even if they show up, they find ways to say how unqualified they are to serve. The jury diversification committee has been studying ways to attract more minorities to serve, but so far, it's been difficult to attract citizens who would rather stay away from a system they believe targets them. Also, it is an enormous demand and people, maybe like yourself, cannot afford to take the time off work, and the compensation is simply inadequate. The suggestion to afford better pay to jurors for this all-important role in our system has been met with "we have no money." But money for a new jail? That they got.

I am not for justice in the court of public opinion, but I am not for secret justice in the shrouds of backrooms. More shennigans are discovered where there are secrets. Public opinion is not going to affect verdicts and rulings from happening the way they do. But redress for legitimate grievances can be better addressed when exposed to the light of day. The Northwestern School of Journalism, the Innocence Project, and the Downstate Innocence Project prove there is something seriously wrong with the current way prosecutors are practicing the profession. Exposure would help prevent deliberate injustice. Maybe. We have videotaped Illinois Legislature Sessions and that doesn't seem to stop the Madigans from doing whatever crooked pay to play maneuver they come up with next. Like anything else on television, people can complain about it, but unless it violates the standards of law regarding fair trials, we will have to watch and live with verdicts we don't like. It's a government function, criminal prosecutions are, on the taxpayers' dole, so I say let the taxpayers see as much as possible. (excluding juries, victims of sex crimes, and juveniles.) Like the traffic policeman says, "What have you to hide?" I think more good than bad would happen with televised courtrooms.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 19, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I respect your opinions.  You obviously have more experience, and knowledge about this than others.  I understand about jury diversity.  I do believe that a jury's decision can be based on racial bias; but that goes all different ways depending on the defendent, and the jury.  When I receive a jury duty summons in the future; I will comply with it as I have in the past though.  I understand what your saying; but I would rather serve than take the chance that a deputy just might show up.  It is one's civic duty even though it is a pain in the tail.  It used to be based on voter registration; but I heard that it is based on driver's license now.  Do you know how they decide who to send the jury summons to, or who not?    P.S.  Your right about the Madigan types; but I would include both parties in Illinois.

Local Yocal wrote on May 20, 2012 at 10:05 am
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For those of us who have lived in this county for a while, (me, 30+ years- not once ever summoned) we don't know how a jury summons gets determined. Some in this county can complain of getting called 4 to 5 times already. Some never. What we are told is that there is a computer that grabs all State I.D.'s, Driver's Licenses, and Voter Registrations of the county and anyone over 18 could be summoned. Due to the expense of mailing, the county can only afford to mail a limited number to citizens. I am not aware of how addresses are selected for the mailing. We are told it is "at random." The rate of return is very small. The few that answer the call, are then weeded out according to the extent a hardship would be created by serving, and then will be further weeded out by the attorneys during voir doir, as you probably know from your experience.  What is amazing is that not only do the jury pools still don't reflect the county's population demographics, (jury pools are 97-98% white, middle class) but it's astounding how frequently the jury pools have family in and/or are friends with members of law enforcement. It should be understood too, how rare a trial is in Champaign County. Of the 4000+ cases a year that are prosecuted, only about 50-60 cases a year actually go to a jury trial. The rest are plea bargains of guilty to a sentence the prosecutor's office decides. To keep the system streamlined, the state's attorney's office often overcharges on an incident to induce a plea bargain later; or, dismisses the case outright. (Over 3000 police reports filed each year are not acted upon.) So it's amazing the defendant insisted on a trial when DNA evidence clearly implicated him, and the victim sustained violent injuries (that were photographed) not consistent with consensual sex.

Some have been more amazed (outraged) by the jury's failure to convict. Without knowing exactly what the jury heard and saw, it's hard to understand from what Mary Schenk gives us why some on the jury didn't vote guilty. I would just caution everyone not to reach a hasty conclusion based on what Schenk puts together. Because of the financial cut backs at The News-Gazette, Schenk can sometimes be covering 3-4 trials simultaneously- and sometimes not be present in the courtroom during testimony. Schenk writes 3-6 crime articles a day with a fairly tight deadline on all of them, her 20-year bias has been on the side of law enforcement (understandable, since those are her primary sources for stories), and Schenk is particularly sensitive to sex crimes. That's not a criticism, they are factors needed to take into consideration when Schenk reports a story.

This is clearly written as one of Schenk's, "Look How Stupid This Jury Was" stories, but without any of us being there; we really don't know what failed to pursuade members of the jury- beyond a reasonable doubt. If the case is as solid as Schenk's reporting wants us to believe, then the prosecutor will take a second bite at the apple. Another thing about juries: the prosecutors will sometimes interview the first jury after the verdict, including those who weren't pursuaded, so as to improve their presentation the second time. She better improve it, not only might there be a victim of a horrific crime not avenged (is that the point of the criminal justice system?); but the taxpayers have well over $13,000 invested in just housing and feeding Alexander-Smith. (It's going to be over $17,000-a-year in the event of a penetentiary sentence.)

Local Yocal wrote on May 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm
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I should also include people who are receiving unemployment benefits from the state and those with certificates of disability are also documents the "computer" is selecting from to list elgible citizens to serve on juries.

There is also one link in the chain that is unaccounted for, and that is when the clerk calls the next name from the jury pool to be voir doir'd for a trial. There is no accounting I'm aware of for how that stack is made or what determines in what order the clerk will call names.

Jsmith68 wrote on May 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm

This is the forum we want to rant and rave about jury duty in?  Let us not forget a woman was sexually assaulted.  She would have to want put herself in the terrible position of testifying in front of numerous people she doesn't even know.  The facts should support the verdict in the case, not how someone looks, not the race of either party, not the education of  a juror.  This is what our founding fathers were thinking when they wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Get back to the basics fellow Americans, then we can get back to a true judicial system. 

LeslieM wrote on May 20, 2012 at 11:05 pm

This is complete B.S. There was way to much evidence not to convict this man. Our judicial system is a joke. This poor woman has to suffer her injuries and be scared to be in her own home. The man is obviously a liar considering he was trying to use the debt card after all of this happened. So what if she ran 2 blocks to someone elses house to call the police. She was raped, cut and battered. Maybe she felt safer seeing as how the man made her promise not to call the cops or he is going to kill her. This needs to go to trial again and if another jury can't come to a conclusion then we all know someone, somewhere is getting paid off. 

lawnerd wrote on May 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Paid off? By whom? The defendant who can't even make bail? Does the Public Defender's budget have a line item for bribes? Perhaps Mr. Vargas bribed them himself out his fat civil servant salary. I do recall reading  about a month ago an article about Vargas returning from a two year deployment with the United States Army in Iraq and Afganistan so he's obviously obscenely rich and cares nothing about real American values. Or maybe you're just a paranoid crank who doesn't care who you slander on the internet.

Local Yocal wrote on May 21, 2012 at 6:05 pm
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Not at all suggesting this to be the case in this particular situation here, but the most common form of bribery in the criminal justice system is the bribes made by the prosecutors to witnesses who testify against a defendant in exchange for lenient treatment in the witness' pending criminal charges. It's the number one reason exonerations happen later. Another improvement to the system would be to end this practice of allowing the state to offer tilted justice for testimony against someone.