Defendant found guilty in high-profile Elmore County rape case

Defendant found guilty in high-profile Elmore County rape case
Chase Hughes

ELMORE COUNTY, AL (WSFA) - Warning: The details in this story may be inappropriate for some audiences.

An Elmore County jury finds Chase Hughes guilty of 1st degree rape and 2nd degree burglary. Hughes showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

Hughes was taken into custody after the verdict was read. His sentencing will be March 1.

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The jury began deliberations just after 2 p.m. Wednesday in a high-profile Elmore County rape case involving defendant Chase Hughes.

Closing arguments lasted around an hour.

Prosecutor Holly Free began closing arguments, explaining the state met its burden of proof, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Chase Hughes raped the victim on Sept. 11, 2016.

Free explained this by arguing three elements: intercourse occurred, it occurred with the opposite sex, and it occurred through forcible compulsion, which Free defined as physical force that overwhelms earnest resistance.

Free also cited the elements of second degree burglary, which involve unlawful entry of an occupied dwelling with the intent to commit a felony.

Defense attorney Susan James then addressed the jury pointing to the defendant, stating Chase Hughes sat there as an innocent man, reminding the jury it was his Constitutional right not to testify in this case.

James maintained the state did not meet its burden of proof on either charge.

"She got in too deep to get out," James said of the victim.

James recalled the sexual nature of the relationship between Hughes and the victim, stating the victim's noes were meaningless in past references to their sexual encounters.

James then worked to convey inconsistencies in the victim's testimony, casting doubt about the victim's recollection of  the moments before and after the sexual encounter in question on Sept. 11, 2016.

James closed by insinuating nothing changed between Hughes and the victim following the argument on Aug. 23, 2016.

"It was just another day in their sex life," James said of the threats and the encounter in question.

Prosecutor Mandy Johnson addressed the jury last and stated Chase Hughes determined his fate on Sept. 11, 2016.

Johnson said it wasn't the man that was sitting in the courtroom that made the decision and put a picture of Hughes from 2016 on the projector, stating it was instead the man in the image. The picture showed Hughes with a much larger muscular physique, flexing without a shirt.

Johnson agreed with James and stated, "The [victim] did get in too deep."

"It does not matter how many times a woman has consensual sex, no means no," Johnson told the jury.

Johnson displayed blown up shots of the text messages Hughes sent the victim leading up to the incident.

"Chase wants you to see the [victim] as someone who deserves this," Johnson told the jury. "He wants you to see her the way he did, that it was okay to do this."

The second day of this high-profile case began with the resumption of the victim's cross-examination. James crossed-examined the victim for nearly an hour and a half Wednesday morning, combing over the details of their prior relationship and the days leading up to the sexual encounter on Sept. 11, 2016.

During cross-examination James continued to call the sexual encounter in question an event or the alleged rape, driving home the argument that Hughes and the victim had a consensual sexual relationship for some time that was unorthodox in nature.

James read numerous text messages in the months prior to the incident where Hughes would ask the victim if he owned her and that he would force her to have sex and the victim would follow along.

"He told you that you didn't have a choice," James asked the victim.  "But you did have a choice, didn't you?"

The victim said yes.

James read a text message the victim sent Hughes during a sexual conversation from June 2016 that said "Do you like raping me, lol."

The State redirected questions to the victim, highlighting an argument in their relationship on Aug. 23, 2016, that triggered a chain of threatening text messages by Hughes to the victim.

In the final line of questioning from the State, Johnson asked the victim "Did you have consensual sex with Chase Hughes after August 23, 2016?"

The victim responded "no."

The State rested its case. The Defense then rested its case without calling any witnesses.

DAY 1

In opening statements, the State and the Defense both told the jury this was a very difficult case with extremely graphic content in the form of text messages and images. Both sides agreed a sexual encounter occurred on Sept. 11, 2016; but, the nature of that encounter is where the stories change.

Testimony revealed Hughes and the victim were in a dating relationship, and they remained in contact and had a sexual relationship after the breakup in February 2016.

Defense attorney Susan James described their relationship as consensual, dirty sex with fantasy role play.

The State maintained the relationship changed on Aug. 23, 2016, after Hughes discovered the victim and his current girlfriend were in communication.  Between August and September, when the incident occurred, Hughes sent the victim numerous threatening text messages – some of which are too graphic to be published.

Assistant District Attorney Mandy Johnson read some of those text messages to the jury during opening statements, calling Hughes a man of his word.

"'I will rape you until you can't walk if you tell me no,'" Johnson read from Hughes text message to the victim.  "She said 'please stop it.'  He said 'I will never stop.'"

"This is the only way to stop Chase Hughes," Johnson told the jury, asking them to deliver a guilty verdict in this case.

The State's witnesses included the case agent, a forensic scientist that tested Hughes' DNA sample, the nurse that performed the rape exam, and the data analyst from the Central Alabama Drug Task Force that extracted the data from Hughes' and the victim's cell phones.

The victim was the last witness to take the stand on Tuesday, giving a tearful testimony of what transpired on Sept. 11, 2016.  The victim sobbed as she recalled her repeated requests for Hughes to stop raping her in her bedroom.

When asked to read the text messages that lead up to that day, the victim was overcome with emotion, and couldn't speak.

Johnson read the text messages from Hughes to the victim that were lined with threats of rape and exposing revealing pictures of the victim if she sexually resisted the defendant.  On at least two occasions, Hughes told the victim she should kill herself and stated, "I hope you die."

During the victim's testimony, Johnson read texts from September 10, 2016, the day before the incident.

"'You'll learn I'm not playing games,'" Hughes text to the victim read. "'I will kick that door in, I'm not going without it.' The victim responded 'no.'  'Fine I'll teach you.' The victim responded 'stop.'  Hughes texted 'I'll never stop.'  The victim responded, 'yes you will. I know you better than you think. I've been dealing with your empty threats for years.'"

The victim testified the next day Hughes followed her home, kicked in her door, and raped her. The state showed pictures of the door with a broken door jam, and obvious signs of a forced entry.

James began cross-examination late Tuesday, and worked to drive holes in the victim's account of what transpired on that day, and inconsistencies in her testimony.

James asked the victim, "Why didn't you call police immediately after Hughes left."

The victim responded, "I didn't want to get him in trouble."

Testimony revealed the victim's ex-husband called police, and investigators were dispatched to the victim's house that day.

Cross-examination of the victim will continue Wednesday.  No word if Hughes will testify.

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