JEFFERSON, Iowa — He’s a 17-year-old high school basketball star. She’s a 19-year-old college student who attended the same high school.
What happened between the two last August in a car after an underage beer party is something only they know.
But what has happened since has triggered questions — about fairness, consequences and who is protecting whom.
Sheriff Steve Haupert says he’s trying to stay neutral, so he won’t discuss the case. Still, he cannot recall a sexual assault accusation that has had so many people here talking.
Trey Tucker, a junior at Greene County High School, is charged with third-degree sexual assault for allegedly forcing the young woman to have sex with him after she told him no.
In Iowa, anyone age 15 or older facing a similar felony sex charge, which can bring up to 10 years in prison if convicted, is typically tried in adult court.
Legal experts say Tucker’s case is unusual because a judge agreed to hear the case in juvenile court, where punishment would be far less severe. In another twist, the judge agreed to close the hearing to the public at the request of Tucker’s high-profile Des Moines lawyer, Brandon Brown.
Brown contends in court documents that the accuser’s early statements suggest that “perhaps Mr. Tucker was confused about the comments she made prior to the purported sex act.”
Many in this west-central Iowa community of about 4,300 residents have rallied around Tucker. More than 30 people wrote letters attesting to his character last year as Brown fought to get the case transferred to juvenile court.
But as a court hearing nears, others have questioned whether the woman is being treated fairly.
Churdan farmer George Naylor wrote the Reader’s Watchdog after reading local news reports, wondering whether public admiration for Tucker’s on-court skills has helped him avoid consequences for a violent crime.
“I don’t have information other than what I read in news accounts,” Naylor wrote. “Maybe your reporting can reveal more of why this case is being conducted the way it is.”
It’s uncommon for most women, let alone one just out of high school, to report an accusation of sexual assault to law enforcement.
One question Naylor asked was why Greene County Attorney Nicola Martino didn’t do more to counter Brown’s efforts to transfer the case out of adult court. He also wondered why Martino didn’t try to block Brown’s request for the accuser’s mental health records. Brown sought the records in an attempt to show her account of what happened had changed.
Documents show Martino filed a one-paragraph motion opposing the transfer to juvenile court, saying “no reasonable prospect for rehabilitation” existed for Tucker in juvenile court. He says he later changed his mind because of a juvenile court officer’s report noting that Tucker had no previous criminal history.
Martino says he did not resist the move to admit the mental health records because judges ultimately make those decisions. He said it’s standard practice for judges to privately review the records and then decide whether to allow them as evidence.
Still, Naylor says he believes more sunlight is needed on the case to help the public better understand it.
“It just seems like the scales of justice are being tipped to one side, and there is a lot of extrajudicial pressure determining these decisions,” he said. “That’s just not the way our justice system is supposed to work.”