ITHACA, N.Y. — The jurors who will decide the verdict for Jeffrey Horton, on trial for charges of rape, burglary and several other crimes, got an outline of the case ahead Friday as opening statements were presented by both the prosecution and defense.
Jury selection took about two-and-a-half days this week for the retrial of Horton. In 2016, Horton was found guilty of 11 of 14 charges. He is charged with stalking, raping and beating a woman he knew in 2015. The previous case was overturned on an appeal because of an issue with jury selection.
Addressing the jury Friday morning, Assistant District Attorney Diane Lama presented a picture of Horton as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” She said on one side, Horton is a man who is sociable and kind to friends and family but said he was also someone who could fly into a jealous rage. Ultimately, she said, he was a man who “beat and raped a woman he supposedly loved.”
Defense attorney Jerome Mayersak, who is representing Horton along with Kristine Shaw, said while the prosecution’s story is compelling, “it’s not evidence.” He asked that jurors not let emotion guide them in this trial.
“If you listen closely to the evidence, you’ll find that Jeff Horton is innocent of the crimes charged against him,” Mayersak said. He said the only real evidence against Horton in the trial is the word of the victim and “she cannot be relied upon by you to make such an important decision.” He asked jurors to be critical of all evidence and withhold judgment until the end of the trial.
Lama told jurors that when the victim started to break away from her relationship with Horton in March 2015, he became angry. Lama said Horton texted her obsessively, left her a letter, showed up at her home unannounced asking for another chance, but she “would have none of it. She told him she wanted her time and space from him, but the defendant would not take that for an answer.”
An evening shortly after, Horton showed up where the victim was working. A co-worker told him to leave and he then placed an anonymous call to 911 falsely claiming the victim was about to drive drunk. As a result, a Dryden police officer showed up, found the report was false and left. Horton continued to call and text the woman throughout the night. She told him to leave her alone, but he continued to text, Lama said.
When the woman went home later, Lama said she took extra care to lock her doors before turning her phone off to go to bed. About an hour after falling asleep, Horton shocked the woman by turning on the lights in her bedroom, Lama said. When she asked how he got in, he said he got in through the dog door. He allegedly said, “I wanted to talk to you tonight, but you wouldn’t talk to me.”
Lama said Horton proceeded to tie up the victim with a rope he brought, and “over the course of the next two hours, he assaulted her physically and sexually.”
After the assault, Lama said Horton hid the woman’s phone and turned himself in at New York State Police barracks. However, he did not mention the sexual assault. When the victim eventually found her phone that night, she called the police and said Horton had beaten her up. The following day, Lama said, the woman “overcame the shock and the shame” and with the support of family friends, returned to the Dryden Police Department to give a “full account” of what Horton had done to her.
The full account of what Horton did to the woman, Lama said, will be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” through evidence including testimony from the victim, who took the stand shortly after opening statements Friday, as well as with video at the police barracks, testimony from witnesses and calls and text messages.
At the barracks, Horton is recorded telling police, “I snapped,” “I just went nuts,” “I slapped her a lot.”
While Horton has admitted to slapping the victim many times, Mayersak said the prosecution’s story that Horton went to her house and beat and raped her “did not happen.”
“The prosecution wants you to believe that this is a case about a relationship gone wrong, that Jeff couldn’t handle the relationship breaking down,” Mayersak said.
Mayersak said it is the jury’s job to listen to all of the evidence and make a judgment based on the facts — or the lack of facts — after both sides have presented their cases. He told jurors to be critical of all the evidence they will hear and look for the gaps and said the victim’s testimony cannot be relied upon. He said there is not enough evidence to convict in this case.
He told jurors they are faced with two important tasks.
“The prosecution will want you to believe that Jeff is guilty and convict him, but an equally important task is to prevent someone who has been wrongly accused of charges — and that is of equal importance, if not more so,” Mayersak.
Check back for updates throughout the trial at this link.
Featured image: Jeffrey Horton listens on as his attorney Jerome Mayersak presents opening statements on Sept. 21. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)