Ron Forsell | Co-Editor-in-Chief
The trial of former Buena Vista University (BVU) student Jake Syndergaard began Tuesday at the Buena Vista County Courthouse in Storm Lake, IA, with jury selection and opening statements from the prosecution and defense.
Syndergaard was arrested in October 2011 for an alleged sexual assault on the BVU campus. In December 2011, Syndergaard pled not guilty and was released on $100,000 bail. One of the conditions of Syndergaard’s release was that he withdraw from BVU. He is currently facing third-degree sexual assault charges.
Approximately 75 registered voters were summoned to the courthouse today, and the State was allowed to ask both general and specific questions to all potential jurors on issues ranging from their level of awareness about the trial to any previous history of similar crimes to if they had any knowledge of any of the parties in the case. After five hours of questioning, 12 jurors and two alternate jurors were selected; the jury is composed of six men and six women.
After seating the jury, Judge Patrick Carr swore them in, and jurors were admonished not to discuss the case amongst themselves or with anyone else until the trial was over.
The parties then presented opening statements. Opening statements are not evidence, and nothing in them is to be relied on when the jury makes its decision; rather, they are a road map or guide for the jury to show what both sides believe to have occurred in the incident being tried.
Assistant County Attorney Liz Lapole delivered the State’s opening argument. She laid out the State’s version of the alleged crime and described how the various witnesses (including the alleged victim, several BVU students, staff, and some medical personnel) would help to prove the State’s case. She indicated that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a sexual act occurred by force or against the alleged victim’s will. Lapole was confident that the State would meet this burden.
One of Syndergaard’s attorneys, Edward Bjornstad of Spirit Lake, then delivered his opening statement. He began by thanking the jurors for their time and service and then introduced his client and some of the witnesses the defense would call, including Syndergaard himself, several BVU students, medical personnel, and others. He also indicated a similar story to the one the State described, but his anecdote included several key differences regarding the use of force and consent which are the two issues at hand in the case.
The trial continued Wednesday morning, when the alleged victim testified. She recounted the incidents of October 29, 2011. She indicated that the she had been drinking at a few locations around campus. She indicated that she had somewhere between four to five and a half drinks over a six to seven hour span, but was not intoxicated at the time of the alleged abuse. She then described the alleged crime in vivid detail. The State ended their examination with the alleged victim reiterating that the act was not consensual.
On cross examination Bjornstad, Syndergaard’s attorney, pressed the alleged victim on the timeline of the night in an effort to cast some doubt in the minds of the jury. The alleged victim was unable to recall several details about the night in question, but when pressed she indicated it was the result of time not alcohol consumption.
After the alleged victim, a member of BVU campus security testified. He was the first official to see the alleged victim and the defendant after the incident occurred. He indicated Syndergaard appeared intoxicated, and the room smelled of alcohol. The security officer then testified that he saw the alleged victim emerge from a bathroom with a towel tied around her waist and, in his words, it appeared as though she had been crying. The officer then took the alleged victim and two other members of the Buena Vista community to the Buena Vista Regional Medical Center (BVRMC).
The trial continues at the BV County Courthouse in downtown Storm Lake. Watch The Tack for updates to this developing story.