After a day and a half of deliberation, the jury in the trial of former Tompkins County Sheriff's Officer Scott Walters reached a verdict on Sept. 18.
They found Walters not guilty of rape in the first degree acting in concert, not guilty of attempted rape with Walters being the primary actor, and not guilty of sexual abuse in the first degree. Family members and friends of the victim in the courtroom were crushed by the verdict.
Walters had been charged with rape in 2017 after a woman accused him and another man of having sex with her one night in Feb. 2013 when she was "physically helpless" due to, she alleged, being drugged. Since the accusation, Walters has been on paid administrative leave, according to the Ithaca Voice.
Prosecuting attorney Joseph Fazzary, a district attorney from Schuyler County, found this was a difficult case, especially considering the victim came forward four years after the sexual assault first occurred.
"Obviously you want victims to come forward immediately and that doesn't happen very often because a vast majority of sexual abuse victims don't ever come forward," Fazzary said. "I trust in the system and I understand that we are asking 12 jurors to make a decision on some limited information; the most that we have, the admissible evidence. In this particular case, I think they worked at it very long and very hard. I'm a firm believer in our justice system, the way it is, and I accept their verdict. I don't think I could have done anything different to change their minds. I put in all of the evidence I wanted in. There were just some questions that they had. I can't tell you what those questions were but I hope to get the chance to speak to one or two of the jurors later on and find out what they were thinking."
Throughout the day, the jury reviewed several pieces of testimony and at one point felt they weren't going to reach a decision. The judge, acting on the advice of the defense and prosecution, issued an Allen charge to continue deliberating in order to prevent a hung jury. This would have led to the judge declaring it a mistrial and a new trial for Walters being set up. However, defense attorney Veronica Gorman felt the jury came to a reasonable decision and took the time they needed to ensure a verdict was delivered.
"This is definitely a case where the jury didn't rush the decision," Gorman said. "They evaluated all the evidence and with all the evidence they had, they acquitted my client, which we anticipated all the way through. Everybody has a right to exercise to a jury trial and he did. We're just glad that the truth came out."
Fazzary held onto the idea that Walters was the person who orchestrated the entire incident but how his role as a police officer could make for a hazy judgement. Fazzary felt that if Walters did this, he should no longer have been allowed to be a police officer. Gorman did recognize that because of the trial, there will be a stigma attached to Walters for the accusation.
"Unfortunately, because the accusation was made he's always going to have to live under an air of suspicion," Gorman said. "Just like his identity here became Deputy Scott Walters charged with a crime. Part of his identity is going to be the person that went to trial. My fear is that people will not acknowledge the jury process and the fact that a jury of his peers acquitted him and that he was accused which is unfortunate that we hang up on the wrong things."
When asked about Matthew Pinney, the man who was originally charged alongside Walters, Fazzary said the case will go away and that will be the end of it. Pinney agreed to testify in the Walters case in exchange for having his own rape charges reduced to two misdemeanors, stemming from the same night. Walters declined to comment on this article.