Courts & Crime

Appeals court throws out rape conviction of former principal

TACOMA, Wash. — A Washington state appeals court has overturned the conviction of a former Tacoma middle school principal found guilty of sexually assaulting a young woman at a town house.

In a 2-1 decision released Tuesday, the Court of Appeals Division II found Pierce County Judge Lisa Worswick erred in allowing jurors to consider convicting Harold Wright Jr. and a co-defendant of the lesser charge of third-degree rape during their trial in 2007.

The jury convicted Wright and his co-defendant, Richy Carter, in July 2007 of third-degree rape. The appeals court reversed both convictions.

“This is great news,” said Wright’s attorney, Barbara Corey.

Deputy prosecutor Kit Proctor said her office will appeal the decision to the Washington State Supreme Court. Prosecutors have 30 days to do so.

Wright, now 38, was the principal of Baker Middle School when second-degree rape charges were filed against him and Carter in February 2007. He was placed on administrative leave and resigned after his conviction.

Prosecutors alleged the two sexually assaulted a woman at the town house of a friend after meeting her and two other friends in a Puyallup bar in 2004. The woman, then 19, knew Wright from Spanaway Lake High School, where he was an assistant principal when she was a student.

During the trial, the woman testified she was held down and raped by at least one man and possibly two. She could not remember specific details but was adamant she did not consent to having sex. She also said Wright was in the room at the time.

Investigators found Carter’s DNA during a sexual assault exam of the woman the day after the attack. Forensic technicians also found DNA consistent with Wright’s on the woman’s body.

During the trial, Wright testified he had had no sexual contact with the woman. He said she had danced close to him as she wore only jeans and a bra.

Carter contended he had consensual sex with the woman.

After the conviction, Judge Worswick sentenced Wright to six months in jail but postponed the incarceration while he appealed. Carter got 14 months.

In the appeal, Wright argued Worswick had erred in giving the jurors the option of considering third-degree rape and that the evidence didn’t support the conviction. He also raised issues of prosecutorial misconduct, but the appeals court did not address them.

To prove second-degree rape, prosecutors must convince jurors the sex was by forcible compulsion. Third-degree rape requires prosecutors to prove the defendant had sexual intercourse with a person who was not a spouse, did not consent to the act and clearly expressed lack of consent by words or conduct, the appeals court opinion states.

The appeals court found the woman’s testimony supported only a conviction of second-degree rape and Wright’s evidence supports only the idea that no rape occurred.

The justices found “the trial court erred by giving the third-degree instruction because neither (the victim’s) testimony nor the defendant’s evidence supports an unforced, nonconsensual rape,” the opinion, written by Justice David H. Armstrong, stated.

In the dissent opinion, Justice Robin Hunt wrote that the evidence supported giving the third-degree rape instruction.

“In spite of the majority’s characterization to the contrary, I agree with the State that ‘the jury could find lack of consent without force’ based on the record before us,” the dissent opinion states.

The justices sent the case back to Pierce County Superior Court for retrial on the second-degree rape charges.