A jury found Jacob Ewing guilty Friday on 11 of 12 charges, including two counts of rape, four of aggravated criminal sodomy and two of battery in a case that has gripped this small Kansas town.
As the verdict was read, friends and family of the victims could be heard gasping and murmuring, “Yes.” Ewing’s mother, Wendy, simply looked down to her lap, her manner appearing stricken. Jacob Ewing stared ahead with a blank look on his face.
The trial stemmed from two incidents involving separate women, who were 18 and 21 at the time of the sex crimes, which occurred about a year and a half apart, in September 2014 and May 2016.
Ewing now faces a maximum sentence of about 26 years in prison, prosecutor Jacqie Spradling said.
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Parents of one of the victims held hands as they awaited the verdict and later hugged Spradling and Lisa Hyten, the victims advocate in Jackson County, Kan.
Other family members and friends of the victims embraced.
“Justice was served for these girls ... finally,” said one of the victim’s mothers after the verdict was read. “I’m just numb. I cannot believe it. I’m just very thankful, thankful to all the jurors.”
The victim’s father said he felt one emotion more than any other: relief.
The victim’s parents, whom The Star will not name under its policy to not identify rape victims or their immediate family members, choked up while speaking about the turmoil their daughter has endured.
Both victims took the stand this week.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to (testify) in front of a bunch of other people,” the father said.
The mother felt months of undergoing the painful legal battle had not been in vain.
“I think the message that I would want to send today would be that while it takes strength that you never even knew you had, if you tell the truth and make these monsters be held accountable for their actions, then people do believe you,” she said.
She added that her perception of Holton as a safe town was tainted by her daughter’s rape here.
“I never thought twice about her being here,” she said. “I felt so confident this town was not a place to be worried about.”
The jury deliberated for about 3 1/2 hours before delivering its verdict. Judge Norbert Marek said sentencing will be held July 27.
Ewing also is charged with the rape of two other women and the attempted rape of another. Spradling said those trials, scheduled for August and October, will be held and could add years to Ewing’s prison sentence.
Should he be found guilty in the other rape cases, sentencing guidelines indicate he’ll face approximately 50 years in prison.
Ewing also faces 13 counts of sexual exploitation of a child for possession of child pornography.
Savhannah Jurgensmeier, who was sexually assaulted in Holton as a 15-year-old, attended the trial this week. After initially agreeing to tell her story in court after the 2010 crime, Jurgensmeier said she was “bullied out of testifying.” The rape charges were dropped, and the man pleaded guilty to indecent liberties with a child.
She said the treatment of the sexual assault survivors in this case, which has been vitriolic online with some people adamantly supporting Ewing, discourages victims of similar crimes from reporting.
She also pointed to the trial, in which the victims’ character and credibility were closely scrutinized, as contributing to the underreporting of sex crimes.
“There are other survivors of sexual assault, both in this community and throughout the country, who have not reported, who are watching this happen,” she said. “And all we’ve heard from the defense, everything they have said, all the work that’s been done to dehumanize and criticize these women, is why victims don’t report.”
Alichia Petree lives in Holton and has closely followed the Ewing cases.
She said the victims “were put under the microscope more than (Ewing) was.”
Spradling and defense attorney Kathleen Ambrosio made impassioned cases for their respective sides during closing arguments earlier in the day.
Wendy Ewing momentarily left the courtroom as Spradling spoke about the evidence against her son.
She and other Ewing relatives declined to comment.
Ambrosio made an emotional plea to jurors on the final day of the trial. She said the evidence, which included Ewing’s skin cells on one victim’s underwear; bruises on a victim’s legs that were photographed and presented in trial; Ewing’s violent porn history, some clips of which were shown to the jury; and the victims’ assertions that they had been assaulted, were all insufficient proof to convict Ewing without a reasonable doubt.
“Before you lay this at his feet, the title ‘rapist,’ before you put that on this young man’s shoulders, you better make sure it’s right,” Ambrosio told the jurors.
At one point, she referenced one of the victim’s stature as part of her argument that Ewing should be acquitted.
“You saw (one of the victims). She’s a tall girl, broad-shouldered girl,” Ambrosio said. “She can take care of herself.”
Spradling, echoing Jurgensmeier, argued the treatment of the victims this week illustrates why sex crimes are underreported.
“This is ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ ” she said. “These women have been branded in public and social media. Nobody seeks out that type of attention — the ugliness directed at these women.”
She asked the jurors what they thought the victims stood to gain by reporting what they’d gone through to law enforcement: “Money? No. Revenge? Do they look revengeful to you?”
Tina Myrick of Holton has supported Ewing online and was present in court Friday. She said before the verdict that Ewing has been reduced to the allegations he faces, becoming known for them alone.
“Jacob is a young man who stands up for what he believes in and is a man who believes in protecting and helping others,” she said. “I don’t believe the young man I know is capable of these horrible accusations.”
Ewing is more than the “monster” he’s been painted as, Ambrosio said in the courtroom, adding that the prosecution’s case was built on smoke and innuendo rather than facts.
Spradling later responded, “I don’t want you to convict him for smoke, I want you to convict him for fire. There’s fire in this courtroom.”
Speaking when the jury was deliberating, one of the victim’s mothers said her stomach was in knots, but she was hopeful.
“I’m praying that everything we’ve gone through to get to this point will make a difference and take a rapist off the streets,” she said. “We went through all this to get justice in the name of our daughter and in the name of every woman who has been injured and traumatized and their lives broken at his hands.”