The one case that still haunts me: New law protects victims who withdraw consent.


Byline: Bill Cresenzo

Of the 98 cases that Robert Roupe has tried before a jury during his 19-year career as a prosecutor in Onslow County, there's one victim he thinks about almost every day.

"She was 14 years old, and she was tiny," the assistant district attorney recalls of the shy, scared girl whom he met 15 years ago. "She could have passed for 10 or 11."

She told him she had been skating at a local rink when a 17-year-old male, much bigger than her, coaxed her outside. They began kissing. When he went further, she begged him to stop. He didn't, and instead raped her so violently that a physician found a hygiene product lodged inside of her.

When the case went to trial, Roupe brought the once-obscure, but now notorious, 1979 North Carolina Supreme Court decision State v. Way to the court's attention. In Way, the court ruled that if someone is in the midst of intercourse and then withdraws their consent and the other person fails to stop, such a failure would not legally qualify as rape. Roupe asked the judge to find that Way was wrongly decided and instruct the jury that consent can be withdrawn, but the judge instead gave an instruction based on Way, and the jury acquitted the 17-year-old.

Fifteen years later, Roupe still drives past the road the girl used to live on while on his way to work. "I often wonder what became of her," he said.

Roupe and others are now applauding a new law that passed unanimously in the House and Senate and Gov. Roy Cooper signed on Nov. 7. SB 199 closes the withdrawal of consent loophole, making it a crime to continue with intercourse as soon as someone says "No."

Spencer Merriweather, the district attorney in Mecklenburg County, called the new law "a great step forward."

"We go to bat every day for victims of sexual assault," he said. "'No' always means no. There are no other conditions on it. There is no corollary or amendment. It is always no."

State v. Way had bothered Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, ever since he became an assistant district attorney in Mecklenburg County.

"Law enforcement officers have declined to take out charges because of this law," he said. "Prosecutors have declined to prosecute because of this law. A jury in Wake County found a defendant not guilty because of this law. When my colleagues and I confronted these issues, we were shocked. I made a mental note that if I was ever in a position to do something about this, I would. Shortly thereafter, I was in the Senate, and I...

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