This story is part of IowaWatch’s ongoing coverage of the trial of Toshiki Itoh, a University of Iowa Professor accused of sexually abusing and assaulting his lab assistant. Click below to read earlier coverage.
10-24: Attorneys make final arguments in Itoh case, verdict expected Tuesday
10-23: ‘Irritated’ Judge halts trial as UI Professor claims self defense
10-22: UI Professor denies sexual abuse, assault
10-21: Fearing loss of job, lab assistant kept abuse secret, she testifies
10-20: UI Professor assaulted lab assistant many times, victim says
10-18: Two years paid leave, no spotlight for UI professor on trial for sexual abuse
After a five-day trial that included nearly two days of deliberation, a Johnson County District Court jury found University of Iowa Assistant Professor Toshiki Itoh guilty of two counts of physical assault Tuesday, but it failed to reach a verdict on a charge that he sexually abused his lab assistant.
He faces up to two years of incarceration and the possibility of a retrial on the sex abuse count.
Shortly before the jury verdict was announced, Itoh and his wife filed into the dim court room a few minutes before 2 p.m. and took their respective seats, him at the defense table and she a few feet away in the audience, the two divided by a long wooden banister. His wife wept into a red handkerchief, a group of friends comforting her as the silhouettes of the jury members appeared in the door window. Itoh remained emotionless, even when the jury pronounced him guilty of the two counts of physical assault causing bodily injury.
After the jury said it could not reach a unanimous vote on the charge of sexual abuse in the third degree, Judge Denver Dillard immediately announced his decision.
“On count one, I am declaring a hung jury and mistrial,” he said. He said the state could seek a new trial on that count, and it would be scheduled at another time.
Asked later if she will retry the case, Elizabeth Beglin, the prosecuting attorney, said:
“If the victim decides she wants to go through the whole process again, the state will definitely retry Dr. Itoh.”
Tuesday’s verdicts represent a partial victory.
“I am happy with the verdicts on counts two and three,” Beglin said, referring to the physical assault charges, “and very disappointed about the verdict on count one.”
Itoh’s lab assistant accused him of routinely sexually assaulting her from Jan. 1, 2007, to July 10, 2008. During that time she alleged that he twisted her breasts until they bled, sometimes using a paperclip. She went on to testify that he fondled her breasts and genitals after punching her in the face and breaking her glasses on July 8.
The jury deliberated for about five hours. While it was easy for all the jurors to agree on the two counts of physical assault, they were split down the middle for a long while on the charge of sexual assault, according to juror Paul Julius. The split continued for most of yesterday and Tuesday morning, but as the hours crept by, more and more jurors turned in favor of a guilty verdict.
Finally, only two favored acquittal on the sex abuse count. Nonetheless, those two could not be convinced to change their minds, saying that the prosecution simply did not produce enough evidence to support a guilty verdict, Julius said.
“We just didn’t have enough evidence,” Julius said, “It came down to his word against her word.”
Juror Nick Schaier said that since both Itoh and his lab assistant were so unemotional during their testimony, it made it difficult to decide who to believe.
“[Itoh] seemed very calm and collected for what he was being accused of,” Schaier said of the defendant.
“Her stories were credible,” he went on to say about the lab assistant. “I wouldn’t say that she was lying. I just wasn’t convinced that what she was accusing him of had happened.”
In contrast to that disagreement, they all quickly agreed on a guilty verdict for both physical assault charges stemming from incidents that occurred on July 8 and Jul 10, 2008 in a lab at the University.
“The other two were pretty cut and dry,” Schaier said.
Julius and jury foreman Marcia Loan agreed, saying that the photographs of the lab assistant’s bruises were definitive evidence in support of Itoh’s guilt.
“The photographs were huge,” Julius said.
“The photographs,” Loan said, “Hard to deny that.”
In one assault incident, the lab assistant said Itoh beat her because she complained about another lab worker misusing a microscope. In the second incident, she said he struck her because she said she missed work the previous day, an absence she blamed on injuries suffered from the incident.
The jury first told Dillard of their stalled deliberations on the sex abuse case before the lunch break. Then, concerned about the length of the trial, Dillard told them to take their lunch break while he considered a course of action.
“I don’t intend to let this case continue past this afternoon,” he said.
After the jury had eaten lunches ordered from Hungry Hobo, Loan said that further deliberation wouldn’t have produced different results and that even though the jury members didn’t agree on count one, she was pleased with the process.
“I think we gave it a very honest and fair evaluation,” she said. “I just think that everyone on the jury was very conscientious.”
Schaier and Julius agreed.
“We all respected the fact that we had different opinions, and that was ok,” Julius said.
Standing on the steps leading up to the courtroom, Schaier waited for his wife to pick him up after the trial and said it was good to be going home.
“It was a very long trial. I didn’t think it would last this long,” he said.
Itoh’s sentence for the physical assault charges will be given at a separate date that has yet to be announced. The maximum sentence for each charge, which are serious misdemeanors, is one year, according to prosecuting attorney Anne Lahey. If the judge decides he should serve those sentences consecutively, Itoh could spend a maximum of two years in prison. Or the judgment could be deferred, and after Itoh meets certain conditions during a probationary period, his conviction could be erased from his record, Beglin said. The minimum punishment is a $315 fine.
Defense attorney Patricia C. Kamath will be appealing Itoh’s case tomorrow morning, but said that she would not be representing him in the future. Kamath said she is retiring after she wraps up a couple divorce and drunken driving cases.
Itoh’s future still is uncertain. He has been on paid administrative leave with a salary of $93,000 since the summer of 2008. After the trial, IowaWatch contacted UI media relations coordinator Tom Moore for comment about Itoh’s employment within the University. He said that the General Counsel’s Office will review the verdict and evaluate a course of action. He did not say whether Itoh had been fired.
For now, Itoh will remain under court supervision. He cannot leave the state without asking permission, but he is not going to jail.
“He is free to return back to his home today,” Beglin said.
Beglin said her next course of action is to talk with the victim to see if she wishes to take Itoh to court again, this time solely on the sexual assault charge.
(Mike Anderson is senior journalism major at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a second major in philosophy and a minor in English)