"Jurors Found Little Evidence In Rape Trial -- Credibility Of Accuser Was Key In Case Against Schoolteacher"


Local News: Friday, May 10, 1996
Ronald K. Fitten, Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Jurors say a glaring lack of evidence and questions about the accuser's credibility led to the acquittal of former Denny Middle School teacher Dennis Soldat on charges he raped an ex-student.

The King County Superior Court jury yesterday afternoon returned the not-guilty verdict on the third-degree rape-of-a-child charge just four hours after they began deliberations.

Juror Kori Just said the evidence presented during the trial simply didn't warrant conviction.

"The burden was on the state to prove a conviction was warranted but it just wasn't there," said Just, 26. "We tried to play devil's advocate. But at the end it was unanimous."

"There was no evidence," added juror Eigil Hornli. "That was the issue."

Throughout the 10-day trial, prosecutors contended that Soldat gradually groomed his former seventh-grade student for intimacy, then arranged for her to baby-sit his live-in girlfriend's son, before eventually escalating the physical contact with her until they had sexual intercourse on four occasions.

King County prosecutor Mike Hogan suggested Soldat had a history of problems with several of his students that prompted his dismissal from the school.

But Hornli said the prosecution's attempt to use a school-board report, in which 18 girls at Denny said they had been stared at, touched or fondled by Soldat, was minimized during jurors' deliberations.

"None of these people were brought in to us for cross-examination and we didn't feel the report alone was enough," he said.

He added that testimony about a novel written by the accuser made him believe she "was a dreamer who fantasized a lot."

The defense contended that Soldat had been a good teacher at Denny, and that his accuser had fabricated the entire sequence of events - as evidenced by the novel she'd written that depicted Soldat as one of the main characters.

Furthermore, defense attorney David Allen claimed that Soldat's accuser distorted and embellished so many facts and details of certain events that it was impossible to trust her credibility and hence improper to find his client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, especially since there were no corroborating witnesses.

Minutes after the verdict was announced by Superior Court Judge Janice Niemi, Soldat said, "I want to thank all my family and friends who stood by me."

Hogan said he was disappointed by the verdict, but added that he accepted the jury's decision.

"Some of them have indicated that the state was unable to prove the charges," he said. "And given the nature of the charge - rape of a child in the third degree - you always have inconsistencies."

Soldat, 33, is expected to have a hearing with the School Board within the next month. He hopes to be rehired as a teacher.

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