ALFRED — The jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon in the trial of a former corrections officer who is accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate.

The central question now is whether the eight men and four women will believe the testimony of the alleged victim. While both sides presented other witnesses and evidence, her testimony is the crux of the case.

Joshua Dall-Leighton, 34, faces five counts of gross sexual assault. The indictment states that Dall-Leighton had supervisory or disciplinary authority over the woman because she was in custody at the time, which would make any sexual contact illegal under state law. All of the charges are felonies, and he has pleaded not guilty.

York County Assistant District Attorney Lauren Daley told the jury in her closing argument that the woman’s allegations were consistent, detailed and supported by other evidence. She said the woman’s delay in reporting makes sense because she was afraid to jeopardize her privileges or her impending release date.

“You do not have to understand the motive behind either the defendant’s or (the alleged victim’s) actions,” Daley said. “It does not matter if (she) was pressured into sexual contact with the defendant or if she was interested in the defendant. If you find that sexual contact occurred between Joshua Dall-Leighton and (the alleged victim) during the dates listed in the indictment, by virtue of his position as a corrections officer and her status as an inmate, no sexual contact is allowed by law, and you must return verdicts of guilty on all counts.”

Defense attorney Neal Weinstein attacked the woman’s credibility and denied any sexual contact between the two people. He pointed to the lack of forensic evidence like DNA samples and the woman’s initial denial when corrections officials confronted her about a report that Dall-Leighton had sexual contact with her. And he repeatedly mentioned her criminal history and a lawsuit she filed against Dall-Leighton.

“She has no moral compass,” Weinstein said in his closing argument. “She has these serious felony convictions. … She couldn’t be truthful with anyone if she wanted to be.”

Dall-Leighton previously worked at the Southern Maine Reentry Center in Alfred, which has since moved to Windham. The facility allows women who are near the end of their sentences to go to work, school and home on furlough.

The woman was convicted in January 2012 in Rockland of elevated aggravated assault, robbery and burglary. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but six years suspended. She spent part of that sentence at the re-entry center, where she met Dall-Leighton. Now 34, she was released in 2016 and is on probation. The Portland Press Herald does not identify the victims of alleged sex crimes without their consent.

Joshua Dall-Leighton appears in the Alfred courtroom Monday, the first day of his trial. Dall-Leighton is accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate in his charge at the Southern Maine Reentry Center in Alfred. Press Herald photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The trial began Monday in York County Superior Court. Dall-Leighton did not testify in his own defense.

The alleged victim spent hours on the witness stand Tuesday, and the cross-examination continued Wednesday morning. She described five instances of oral sex or sexual intercourse in a prison transport van between December 2015 and February 2016.

The courtroom was tense while she was on the witness stand, and the attorneys interrupted each other with frequent objections during her testimony.

Weinstein tried to paint the woman as untruthful and manipulative during his second day of cross-examination.

He read explicit text messages she sent to Dall-Leighton while she was at home on furlough, including a request for a sexual photograph. But she testified that she asked for the picture because he requested one from her, and she was trying to delay or avoid sending it.

“What were you going to do with that picture?” Weinstein asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Probably nothing.”

“You weren’t going to use it in the future to say, if you don’t give me more smoking or alcohol or do something else that I’m going to post this to tell people that you did this?”

“No, I never said that,” she answered.

Daley, the assistant district attorney, later asked the woman why she sent the explicit messages if she did not want to do so.

“I didn’t want these things to happen, but it was still ongoing, and I continued to text as often as he did,” she said. “I continued to play along.”

Those text messages could play a key role in the jury’s deliberations. Only a few were read aloud in court, but the jurors will consider dozens of additional photographs of their conversations.

Daley said the texts contain direct references to sexual acts that had taken place.

“These messages are very personal in nature, and they might make you uncomfortable,” Daley said in her closing argument. “But the state would ask that you read those text messages and read them all and use your common sense when you’re reading those messages. Ask yourself, are these text messages between two people who have never had sexual contact with one another, or are these text messages between two people who have had sexual contact with one another and are planning to do it again?”

Weinstein said the texts reflect fantasies but no actual history of sexual contact.

“If sexting – simply because he sent pictures of himself to her – makes him guilty of an offense, then probably half the male population in the world is guilty of some charge,” Weinstein said.

When the woman stepped down from the witness stand Wednesday morning, the state rested its case.

The defense called only one witness – Renee Shanks, who was also a corrections officer at the re-entry center. The alleged victim testified that she talked to Shanks about the sexual encounters at the time, but Shanks said on the witness stand that she was unaware of any inappropriate conduct.

The jury deliberated for an hour Wednesday afternoon before going home for the day. The jury will reconvene Thursday morning.

Nearly three years have passed since the allegations against Dall-Leighton came to light.

The alleged victim testified that she drank alcohol on purpose in March 2016  so she would be sent back to the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and get away from him. But she said she confided in another female inmate there, who made a report and sparked the investigation. Dall-Leighton was indicted that November. He had also been charged with one count of unlawful sexual contact, which was dismissed Wednesday morning for a lack of evidence.

The former corrections officer received widespread media attention in June 2015 for donating a kidney to a woman who advertised her need for a new organ in the back window of her car. While the defense wanted to tell the jurors about that gesture as evidence of his character, it was excluded from trial.

While the jury heard mention of a civil case against Dall-Leighton as well, they also never learned about its current status.

The woman filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Dall-Leighton, as well as the state and prison officials who she said failed to protect her from the assaults. The former guard did not respond to the complaint, meaning he was in default. A federal judge then ordered him to pay $1.1 million to the former inmate, although it is not clear if he can or will pay that sum.

Ezra Willey, who represents the woman in the civil matter but does not have an active role in the criminal case, said he is pursuing options for his client to collect at least part of that award. The judge also dismissed the lawsuit against the state and the corrections officials, a decision Willey has appealed.

Megan Gray can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemegan

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