The past drug use of the woman who was held against her will for nearly two months and repeatedly raped was not relevant to the criminal trial of the man who abducted her, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
Ricky R. House Jr. offered a ride to J.L., who knew House and his girlfriend Kendra Tooley because she had worked with Tooley. J.L. was living in a shelter at the time, and instead of taking her back by curfew, House used chloroform to render her unconscious and then tied her up. Over the next 58 days, she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by House. The couple made her wear a dog collar and often kept her locked in a cage.
She wasn’t freed until Tooley’s ex-husband came to the trailer where J.L. was held captive and took her back to his apartment.
House was charged with 16 counts and convicted as charged. The trial court vacated some verdicts, leaving in place three convictions of Level 1 felony rape, two counts of Level 5 felony criminal confinement, and one count each of Level 5 felony kidnapping, Class A misdemeanor battery resulting in bodily injury and Class A misdemeanor pointing a firearm. He received an aggregate 93-year sentence.
At trial, the state filed a motion in limine to prevent House from presenting any evidence of prior drug or alcohol use by the state’s witnesses, to which House did not object. At the trial, J.L. testified of her drug use during captivity and mentioned that she had used methamphetamine before. House did not seek to introduce evidence concerning J.L.’s prior drug usage during her testimony.
On appeal, House maintained he should have been able to admit evidence of J.L.’s prior drug use because the addiction evidence supported his claim that her usage and thus other conduct, was voluntary while at the trailer.
Judge Michael Barnes noted that House waived the issue, but even if he did not, the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion by excluding the evidence. The Indiana Supreme Court has consistently upheld decisions excluding evidence of a witness’s past drug use as irrelevant.
“Here, J.L. testified regarding her drug usage during the time of her captivity. There is no indication that her prior drug usage was so extensive as to impair her mind. Further, it is not relevant as to whether J.L. was held against her will and repeatedly sexually assaulted. We agree with the State that admission of this evidence was an ‘attempt to smear the victim’s character by labeling her as a drug addict who was willing to abandon her family and submit to degrading and humiliating sexual assaults and to be treated like an animal so long as she received methamphetamine,’” Barnes wrote.
Even if the trial court had erred in excluding the evidence, it was harmless, he noted, because J.L. testified that she had used meth in the past, so the jury was aware of her prior drug usage.
The case is Ricky R. House, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 65A01-1511-CR-1979.