The grand jury that declined to charge a state prison assistant warden in a rape case earlier this month was not provided the sexual assault forensic examination and report done by a nurse, an omission sharply questioned by the victim and sex crime experts.
Jurors rejected a second-degree rape charge against Louisiana State Penitentiary assistant warden Barrett Boeker on March 6, issuing a "no true bill" in the case.
Sexual assault experts said the failure of the West Feliciana Parish District Attorney and Sheriff's offices to collect and examine the physical evidence gathered during the rape exam falls outside standard practices.
"If there's a rape exam done, I can't imagine not looking at the sexual assault exam," said retired East Baton Rouge assistant district attorney Sue Bernie, who prosecuted sex crimes for 30 years. "You'd always want to see that."
West Feliciana Parish District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla said they did not need to use the rape kit because both the victim and the perpetrator said sexual intercourse had occurred the night of the alleged incident. D'Aquilla said the pertinent question in this case was consent, which couldn't be tested by the evidence included in the kit.
"It wouldn't help out the case," D'Aquilla said. "(Boeker) has already admitted that, 'Yeah we had sex.'"
However, the sexual assault exam, commonly known as a "rape kit," includes more than bodily fluids that can be sampled for DNA, East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark said. A completed report includes the victim's statement, descriptions of any signs of violence such as bruises or scratches, as well as an evaluation by the specially-trained nurse, Clark said.
"The kit is so important, it really is the best thing a prosecutor can have to prove a sexual assault," said Racheal Hebert, the president and CEO of Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (STAR). "The fact that it was not (reviewed) is not only shocking, it's also unbelievable, and it points in my mind to mishandling in this case."
Priscilla Lefebure, the 23-year-old victim, said that there were photos taken of Boeker's handprints on her elbows and leg in the rape kit, signs that he forced himself on her.
Lefebure said she was raped twice by Boeker, first on Nov. 30 when she had been staying with the man and his family following the flood. Boeker's wife and their children are Lefebure's cousins. The second rape happened on Dec. 3 after a party, also at Boeker's home on the grounds of the Angola prison, she said. Lefebure said she returned because she thought she would be safe with Boeker's wife present at the house.
An assistant warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola was arrested Tuesday on a …
Lefebure went to Woman's Hospital on Dec. 8 for the sexual assault evaluation, which is within the recommended five days following an assault to complete a rape kit, Hebert said. Boeker was booked with one count of second-degree rape by the West Feliciana Sheriff's Office on Dec. 20.
The Advocate typically does not name people who report that they are victims of sexual assault. But Lefebure said she wanted to have her name used in this article.
Clark said the rape kit and accompanying evidence collected when Lefebure went to Woman's Hospital for the evaluation in early December sat in his office until after the grand jury met, a fact first reported by WBRZ-TV. Because Lefebure went to a hospital within East Baton Rouge parish for her examination, the rape kit was handled by his office. Clark said they cooperate with law enforcement agencies from any jurisdiction.
"When the cops get the kit can change (from case to case), but they always come get the kit and they're the ones that submit it to the crime lab," Clark said. The West Feliciana sheriff's office picked up the rape kit Monday, he said, a week after the grand jury decision and almost three months after it was conducted.
As dictated under Louisiana law, a victim does not have to report to a law enforcement agency after having a rape kit done, so the kits are stored indefinitely by the coroner's office until an officer comes to retrieve them, Clark said.
However, D'Aquilla said even if there were photos of bruising or other evidence in the rape kit, he didn't think it would make a difference in his prosecution.
"It's not a question of whether or not she had bruises," D'Aquilla said. "(Boeker) got up there and told his side of the story, 'We had sex and it was consensual, we got kind of rough.' ... It was just credibility."
D'Aquilla added that he doubted evidence in the kit would support Lefebure's contention that she was attacked. "Even if you have a ton of bruises, that doesn't say it's not consensual," he said.
Bernie said there are some cases of sexual assault where the DNA-portion of the rape kit wouldn't need to be tested, such as when consent is the main issue. But the former sex crimes prosecutor said it should be protocol for a DA's office to review the rest of the rape exam report. She said the details included can corroborate the account given by a victim or defendant.
"That would be one of the first things I would want to see, the rape exam report," Bernie said. However, she added that, "there may be situations even in a consent-defense case, depending on what details the accused gave," that prosecutors might still want to review evidence in the kit.
Bernie said she's worked on cases where both the victim and the accused state that intercourse occurred, but the details of the account are different, so she has tested the rape kit for saliva or other pertinent evidence.
Two days after D'Aquilla first explained to The Advocate why he chose to not use the evidence before taking the case to the grand jury, he said that his office had actually called the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner to ask for the kit multiple times. D'Aquilla could not confirm how or when someone from his office contacted the coroner's office.
Clark disputed that claim, saying he checked if his office had received inquiries from the West Feliciana Parish District Attorney's Office. He said they did not. But either way, Clark said, it is not his office's role to take a completed rape kit to be tested or to deliver it.
The West Feliciana Sheriff's Office declined to answer questions about why they did not retrieve the rape kit and evaluation during their investigation of the incident, saying it could affect future proceedings. They also denied a public records request to view the investigative file of the case on the same grounds.
D'Aquilla said they decided to present the case to a grand jury to determine if charges would be filed.
"Every time we have a grand jury, we present everything we have in our file," D'Aquilla said. He said they did not have any photos and had little witness cooperation, so the case really rode on the statements from Lefebure and Boeker. He said it came down to which story was more believable.
Both Lefebure and Boeker testified, D'Aquilla said, and their decision to refuse charges showed the 12 independent grand jurors found her not credible.
"If somebody's squirming around, not paying attention, you are smart enough to know (they are) trying to be deceptive," D'Aquilla said. "That's why she was there."
But that thinking can be flawed when it comes to victims of trauma, said Hebert, the STAR leader.
"Trauma has a very chaotic effect on the brain... they can forget or confuse details," Hebert said. "It's scary that people in our community, especially people responsible for holding people accountable, still don't understand the dynamics of sexual trauma and how that affects the victim and their memory."
A nurse trained in sexual assault procedures asks questions in a way that sparks the memory during a sexual assault exam, Hebert said, which is another reason accessing the rape exam report is crucial.
The two Sheriff's office deputies who investigated the case were not called to testify at the grand jury. D'Aquilla said his office did not call them because they had nothing to add beyond the victim's statement. The nurse who conducted the sexual assault evaluation or any expert from the coroner's office was not called either, something Clark said has been done in other cases.
Lefebure never met in person with D'Aquilla or anyone from his office to tell the entirety of what happened to her the nights she alleged she was raped, both Lefebure and D'Aquilla said. D'Aquilla said he spoke with her briefly on the phone a few times and in person at Boeker's arraignment, and he had watched her video statements from the Sheriff's Office.
Bernie said she would always try to meet with the victim before going to a grand jury. When possible, she tried to prepare victims who were going to testify as best she could, sometimes even taking them to the courtroom to see what it will be like. Lefebure said she did not feel ready to testify.
"He didn't do his job," Lefebure said. "At this point I would never tell a sexual assault victim to come forward."
D'Aquilla said he didn't feel comfortable speaking to Lefebure. He told her, "'Don't tell me, you just go in there and testify,'" D'Aquilla said.
D'Aquilla told The Advocate that he found many red flags in Lefebure's story and credibility, including her arrest on domestic violence and home invasion counts after an incident with her boyfriend that occurred two weeks before the first alleged rape. The district attorney said Boeker and his wife, Lefebure's cousin, picked Lefebure up from jail after that arrest, something that was part of the file presented in this case.
However, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office dropped that case at the end of January at the victim's request.
D'Aquilla also said he found it troubling that there were no witnesses of the assaults, that no one heard her scream or woke up during the attacks and that she returned to the house where she said she was first raped.
But Hebert countered that past criminal histories of victims should never be relevant because even if someone has committed a crime, it does not mean they cannot be a victim of a crime, she said.
She said it is also common that victims of an assault do not scream, whether out of fear for their lives or another reason, and that when someone is assaulted by a relative or friend, there are a lot of factors at play including power dynamics that may have led her to return to the perpetrator.
"It sounds like the DA is trying to diminish her credibility," Hebert said.
D'Aquilla said their office simply used the evidence they had. If more evidence becomes available, he said they will reopen the case.
Boeker's attorney Cy D'Aquila, a distant relative of D'Aquilla, said that his client maintained from the beginning that they had sex twice, and that it was consensual. He said he didn't think the rape kit was necessary, while pointing out that his client passed a privately administered polygraph examination about if there was consent.
Lefebure said she wouldn't want West Feliciana opening the case again because she felt the whole system was there to support Boeker and discredit her.
"They knew they were never going to convict this man," Lefebure said, a nursing student. "I never stood a chance with the DA, up against this man in this parish... I felt like I was on trial, like I was the criminal."