After listening to both the emotional testimony of a teenager who claimed she had been raped and a tape-recorded conversation between the young girl and the accused, a jury could not reach a unanimous agreement in the case.
Benny Mullins, 59, of Smith Mountain Rd., was on trial last week for the Aug. 1, 2017, incident that allegedly occurred in his home. Mullins exercised his right to not testify during the one-day trial.
The jury of ten women and two men deliberated for nearly four hours before returning to the courtroom to tell Criminal Court Judge Gary McKenzie they were hopelessly deadlocked.
McKenzie asked Assistant District Attorney Philip Hatch if he wanted to have the jury polled, and the state prosecutor said he did. Each juror then announced their decision, with four indicating not guilty and eight saying guilty.
The judge then declared a mistrial in the case and set a Nov. 4 hearing “to see where the case goes.” The state has the option now of having a second trial or reaching a plea agreement.
Jurors heard testimony from the victim before noon Tuesday before the state rested its case.
Defense attorney Kevin Angel of Anderson County requested a judgment of acquittal at that point, arguing that the victim testified that the anxiety medicine she was taking would cause her to sleep so hard she sometimes thought she was dreaming about events. He added that testimony indicated she would awaken confused.
Hatch countered that the jury had before them the taped conversation and the teen’s testimony. The issue, he said, was a question for the jury to decide. McKenzie agreed.
Angel then had Mullins stand before the judge, who questioned him thoroughly about his right to testify and asked if he still wanted to decline taking the witness stand. Mullins said he did want to invoke his right.
Angel called two witnesses — Precious Campbell of Roane County and Debbie Mullins, the wife of the accused.
Assistant District Attorney Amanda Worley helped the teen tell her story through a series of questions. The teen sobbed through most of her time on the witness stand.
Now 17, she was 14 at the time of the alleged incident. The teen testified that she had been sleeping in bed between the Mullinses, which she has done at least one other time — when she awoke to a hand rubbing her pelvic area.
This occurred, she testified, when Mrs. Mullins had left the room for a period of time. The teen said the act progressed until Mrs. Mullins returned. It immediately stopped, the teen said.
She later told Mrs. Mullins what had happened, and the teen said she was told to confront Mullins, which she said she did.
Later that day, the teen said she called Precious Campbell, who she considered a second mother, and confided in her. Campbell told family members, then accompanied the teen to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, where she provided a statement.
Then — at the suggestion of investigators — the teen called the accused so that conversation could be recorded.
A part of that recording was played in court, but at times the conversation was hard to follow.
In the recording, the teen told Mullins, “You know what you done.”
A male voice identified as being that of Mullins responded, “I sure do. I dunno. I woke up … I’m sorry … I’m sorry. Yes, I done wrong. What do you want me to do? Blow my brains out? … I didn’t mean to, I done it in my sleep.”
Under questioning from Angel, the teen was asked if she was taking medication that made her sleep hard, and asked if she didn’t tell others that she thought she was sleeping at the time.
He asked her if she had her cellphone with her and if she called for help.
The teen replied, “No. I could have used my cellphone at any time but I was scared.”
In her testimony, Campbell said she also gave a statement to investigators in which she said the teen “thought she was asleep” when the alleged incident occurred.
Under cross-examination from Hatch, Campbell said she asked about the incident and was told by the teen Mullins touched her.
She quoted the teen as stating she was “just frozen” when it happened and reluctant to tell anyone because of fear she would not be believed.
Mrs. Mullins testified she had been married to Mullins for 39 years and that she had not had not seen him sexually active since 2011.
Mrs. Mullins said she found nothing out of place when she returned from the restroom that night. She testified that the teen suddenly jumped up, called her husband a “pervert” and ran from the room.
Mrs. Mullins said she followed her to comfort her and find out what had happened. She said she asked the teen if she wanted to go home, and the teen said, “No.”
She concluded her testimony that she did not believe the incident happened.
In closing, Angel told the jury the teen, because of her medication, sometimes confuses dreams from reality and that it didn’t happen.
“She was dreaming,” Angel said. And that was enough to cause reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds.
Hatch countered, “It wasn’t a dream. It was a real-life nightmare.”
The jury had the options of the charge of rape (the charge that state law lists as occurring when any sexual activity occurs with an underaged person), attempted rape, sexual battery by an authority figure, attempted sexual battery by an authority figure, sexual battery, attempted sexual battery or assault.
When jurors told the judge they were at an impasse on the charge of rape, the jury was dismissed and mistrial declared without any comment on the lesser-included offenses.