The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 12, 2013

UPDATE: Limestone jury: Clem guilty on 3 rape charges

By Jean Cole

— An Athens man convicted Wednesday evening of raping a family friend and babysitter will be sentenced Nov. 13.

A Limestone County jury took a little more than two hours Wednesday evening to find Austin Clem, 25, guilty of two counts of second-degree rape and one count of first-degree rape involving the girl, who was 14 and 18 when the  incidents occurred.

Clem’s trial began Monday in Circuit Court and continued through Wednesday afternoon. Jurors received the case about 4:10 p.m. after hearing closing arguments and instructions from Circuit Judge James Woodroof Jr.

Prosecutors say Clem raped on two separate occasions a 14-year-old family friend who babysat his and his wife’s two children at their Athens apartment, then raped her again at his apartment when she was 18. Clem was between 19 and 20 when the first rapes took place.

Clem’s defense attorney, Dan Totten, said the  victim was “a girl rejected and she got even,” “fatal attraction,” or “a woman scorned.” He said there was no proof of rape, including no evidence of a fight or DNA evidence.

Clem did not testify during his trial and Totten called no witnesses on his behalf, noting the burden was on the state to prove its case.

The  victim, who is now 20, provided emotional testimony of the event during the course of the trial. Her 19-year-old friend, Rita Pfaff, also testified Wednesday that the  victim had told her about the first two of three  rapes when they were both freshmen in high school in 2009. The victim said she had not wanted to have sexual intercourse with Clem but was scared and did not know how to handle the situation. The friend also testified that she witnessed the  victim telephone the wife of the accused to tell her about the first and second rape. The witness said the wife begged the victim not to call police and promised to put a stop to it.

Years later, when the victim was 18, she said Clem persuaded her, under false pretense, to come to his apartment on Dec. 6, 2011, when he forcibly raped her. She said she fought Clem during this incident, including pushing him away, straightening her legs to prevent penetration, biting his collarbone and scratching his back. She told her friend about the  rape the same night and then told her parents, who took her to report it to Athens Police.

She also obtained a rape screening. A forensic nurse examiner, Liana Hill, with Crisis Services of North Alabama testified Wednesday that she examined the  victim on Dec. 9 and found evidence of blunt-force trauma to the genital area of the victim following the  rape. On cross-examination, Totten asked the nurse if the trauma could have been caused by consensual sex and the nurse said it could have.

When asked on redirect by Deputy District Attorney Jim Ayers Jr. if she believed the trauma would have been painful, the nurse said she believed it would have.

During his closing, Ayers, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant District Attorney Matt Huggins, said the defense was asking jurors to believe that a young woman who finished high school and was going to attend college early wanted to take up with an older, divorced man with kids. He said there was no evidence she ever wanted Clem.

“He was the one coming to her world,” Ayers said. “Calling on her, texting her, and it had gone on for years going way back.”

Ayers noted that Clem admitted having sex with the  victim that night in 2011 but he said it was consensual. However, Ayers asked jurors to recall the nurse’s testimony and use their collective, common experiences to realize the sexual act was “forcible penetration that would have been painful.”

Totten, who later exited the courtroom amid Ayers’ closing following a dispute over what he considered evidence in testimony, told jurors they should not believe that a woman who was twice raped by a man would return again to his home years later.

Before the jury began its deliberations, Woodroof dismissed one count of second-degree sexual abuse that occurred before the  rapes because, under the statute, Clem would have had to be age 19 or older when it occurred and he was younger.

Limestone District Attorney Brian Jones was satisfied with the verdict.

“I am very pleased with this verdict and would like to thank each and every juror for his or her attention and hard work in this difficult case,” he said. “My office and I are very proud to have represented the victim in this case. She showed unimaginable courage in facing her attacker in court and standing up for what is right in our society. This verdict represents justice and closure for this young woman and her family.”