Ron Forsell | Co-Editor-In-Chief
After a week of intense testimony, a Storm Lake jury deliberated for two hours before finding former Buena Vista University (BVU) student Jake Syndergaard not guilty of the sexual assault of a fellow BVU student. When the verdict was announced in the courtroom, the reactions were mixed. Syndergaard shook his attorney’s hands and then hugged his parents and friends who were present in the court room. The accuser sat in her seat and sobbed while she was comforted by fellow students.
The trial lasted a week and included testimony from BVU students and staff. Both sides admit that sexual intercourse did occur, so the state needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Syndergaard acted by force or against the will of another. If the jury had any reasonable doubt as to that element, they could not convict.
In closing arguments, Assistant County Attorney Liz LaPole argued that the accuser did not fight back because she was afraid, not because she consented. She then recounted some of the events of the night and claimed that Syndergaard acted guilty.
Syndergaard’s attorney Edward Bjornstad argued that the accuser’s memory was repeatedly called into question and that created reasonable doubt. In addition, he argued that when the accuser requested that Syndergaard stop, that he did. He added that the accuser never told medical officials she was assaulted, rather the term was used by others who accompanied her to the hospital.
After the verdict was announced, both sets of attorneys released statements about the case. The defenses’ statement, in part, read: “We should accept that verdict. Jake Syndergaard is not guilty; We should move forward and let the healing process begin.”
County Attorney Dave Patton also released a statement, “These are very tough cases for all involved, the victim, the defendant, the prosecution, the defense, and for the jury that listened to a week’s worth of evidence. Given the serious nature of the allegations and the evidence, we believe it was our duty as prosecutors to bring the case to the jury, and I am very proud of the efforts of all those who worked on behalf of the prosecution. Now the jury has performed its duty and has spoken. Although we are disappointed, we believe in the system, and we thank the jury for its service.”
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. Meg McKeon, released this statement: “The University cooperated with law enforcement and the jury has spoken. Our focus is now on providing appropriate support services to those members of our campus community who participated in or were affected by the criminal justice process.”
She also mentioned that the Office of Student Affairs was actively involved in supporting the students involved.
“We proactively reached out to people who would be involved and supported them (students and staff) before, during, and after the trial. We’ve been supporting everyone throughout the process,” McKeon said.
McKeon also said that there would be no changes to the sexual misconduct policy as a result of this incident. “Policy won’t stop the poor decisions people make, but this has raised the level of concern about sexual violence, or violence in general, and that has been positive. Faculty, staff and students are trying to find a way to educate people and make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” McKeon said.
Lastly, McKeon stressed that this should be an opportunity to learn. “We as a community have come together to talk about prevention: how to avoid these situations,” McKeon said.