GARNER | The attorney for Henry Rayhons hopes Wednesday's verdict will help his client regain at least some of his good name.
Following approximately 12 hours of deliberations, a Hancock County jury found Rayhons, 78, not guilty of third-degree sexual abuse. The verdict was reached about 1:40 p.m. Wednesday.
Rayhons was accused of having sex with his wife, Donna Lou, on May 23, 2014, while she was a patient at Concord Care Center in Garner suffering from dementia. The prosecution alleged she lacked the capacity to consent to sexual activity.
"I have a terrific family. I want to thank them for being with me," Rayhons said just outside the courtroom following the announcement. "They were by my side all the time."
He wiped tears from his eyes, clearly relieved at the jury’s verdict.
When asked what he was feeling as he heard the verdict read by District Judge Gregg Rosenbladt, Rayhons answered, "The truth finally came out." His son Dale then said, "Let's go home, Dad."
The family issued a statement thanking the jury for its dedicated service throughout the two-week-long trial.
"They (the jury) obviously cared deeply in deciding the huge issues that faced Dad and the issues in the elderly community arising out of this charge. Donna's memory will live strong in our hearts forever and we pray that the evidence that had to be presented did not tarnish her memory for others who also loved Donna," read a statement signed by Rayhons' children, Carol Juhl, Dale Rayhons, Sara Abbas and Gary Rayhons.
The case was prosecuted by the Iowa Attorney General's Office at the request of Hancock County Attorney David Solheim, who recused himself due to a conflict of interest.
The Attorney General's Office also issued a statement on the verdict.
"Our office prosecuted this case based on a complaint, thorough law enforcement investigation and Iowa law. The jury made its decision, which we respect," it read.
Donna Lou Rayhons died in August at a Hampton care center.
The scene after the announcement of the verdict was chaotic as family members gasped and then could be heard crying as the reality sank in that Rayhons had been found not guilty.
Rosenbladt asked the prosecution if it wished to poll the jury. Assistant Iowa Attorney General Tyler Buller declined.
After the judge dismissed the jury and closed the proceedings, Rayhons turned around and was mobbed by nearly a dozen family and friends with hugs and kisses.
"These people placed enormous trust in me to do the right thing," said Rayhons' attorney, Joel Yunek. "Everybody knew all the facts from the start. So it was actually more of a relief than euphoria."
Yunek was asked about Rayhons' reputation and whether it was tarnished by the allegations of sexual abuse.
"The jury verdict helps. I had to put Henry on the stand. He insisted. He wanted to clear his name," Yunek said.
"We've got to get away from the idea that touching each other or having sexual desires is abnormal, illegal or creepy."
He said the proceedings took their toll on Rayhons, who had many sleepless nights. "In all fairness, he's 78 years old. He’s never had so much as a speeding ticket in his entire life. He thought oral sex was a kiss. That's just how naïve he was."
Yunek declined to give specifics of any plea deals offered by the prosecution. "As far as Henry was concerned, any of those discussion were irrelevant. Henry had to clear his name."
He said the case can well be precedent-setting in starting conversations in families about such issues.
"This was a very emotional thing for me. My mother just passed away Sunday. She had Alzheimer's. My father had taken care of her until he died," Yunek said.
"The evidence in this case was not very different. Personally it was very close to me. It was frankly offensive to me that the government should engage in sort of monitoring of relationships between a husband and wife."
Yunek said people with dementia still have a life.
"First, we've got to understand that demented people aren't zombies. They have feelings and they have emotions. Those are very basic things. Those very basic things are what you should be celebrating," he said.
"We shouldn't be warehousing these people. Let them live their life to the fullest extent that they can."
That also means having sex with their partners, he said.
"These people were married. They had a right to have sex. They certainly did have sexual activity. Pretty clearly they did not have sexual intercourse any time on or around the 23rd."
The jurors heard many intimate details about the lives of Henry and Donna Lou Rayhons.
"Donna was a great gal and he loved her and really loves her very much," Yunek said. "He was worried about besmirching her name in the public. Why, why, why? To what end is dragging her name through this? I never did understand that and still don’t understand that."