By MARY RAINWATER
Following a 2 1/2 day trial, and about 15 minutes of deliberations, an Anderson County jury found a Slocum man not guilty of the charge of sexual assault last week for a 2010 incident in which he was accused of relationship rape.
Benny Earl Hodge, 50, was acquitted of the charge by a five-woman, seven-man jury in the court of State District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher on Thursday.
Palestine attorney Josh Liles represented the defendant, while assistant district attorneys Elizabeth Watkins and Scott Holden — part of the county's Violence Against Women team — represented the state.
“It was basically a case of her word against his,” Watkins said. “Scott and I have had a large amount of training on these type of cases (relationship or date rape) and they can be extremely hard to try.
“This is the first one we have tried in Anderson County in a while.”
According to attorneys, the case stemmed from an incident investigated by the Palestine Police Department in July 2010, during which the victim alleged that Hodge had raped her.
“The two knew each other for 30 years and had been dating for about six or seven months prior to the incident,” Watkins explained. “The woman testified that Hodge had called and asked to come over earlier in the day and several hours later, utilized his physical strength to overcome her and rape her.”
Testifying for the state were Palestine Police officer Patsy Smith (who was a detective for the PPD at the time) and officer Chase Scarborough as well as SANE Nurse Misty Perminter, out of Trinity Mother Francis Hospital in Tyler.
“Perminter testified that there were no physical findings during the examination, but that was not uncommon in women of child-bearing age,” Watkins said. “(Perminter) reported she did find sexual assault by history, based on what the victim had told her.”
Liles brought several character witnesses to the stand to testify on behalf of Hodge, with the lack of physical evidence being the main basis of his defense.
“It was a single allegation from a single woman, with no physical evidence offered,” Liles said. “He was charged and arrested, and because there was no supporting evidence, he was acquitted.
“We are extremely grateful to the jury for their attention to the facts of the case and their resulting decision,” Liles said on behalf of his client. “Mr. Hodge is extremely relieved to have a 3 ½ year nightmare now behind him.”
According to Watkins, in her discussion with jury members following the trial, many of them voiced concerns about why Hodge was with the alleged victim for the several hours before the incident.
“They told me that while they believed the victim, they had legitimate concerns,” she said.
While the state did not win the case, Watkins and District Attorney Doug Lowe agreed that the team did — and always will do — their best to stand up for women who have been abused or assaulted.
“Whether we win or lose, it is still a form of closure for the victim,” Lowe said. “And that is a good thing.”
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org