It’s been eight months since a judge declared a mistrial in the second-degree rape case against former police Sgt. Gordon Ennis. Attorneys are ready to try again.
On Tuesday, jury selection is expected to begin in a case embroiled in witness and evidence tampering, featuring testimony from multiple Spokane Police Department employees, some accused and acquitted of wrongdoing. Similar to the first go-around in June, attorneys are calling in an extra-large pool of 125 potential jurors due to the high-profile and wide-reaching nature of the case.
The trial itself is expected to last three weeks and will begin on Feb. 26. State attorneys Kelly Fitzgerald and Kyle Treece intend to call more than 20 witnesses, including guests at the party where the sexual assault is alleged to have occurred and Spokane police officers.
Defense attorney Rob Cossey could not be reached for comment, but he said in June that he intends to call only six witnesses, not including Ennis.
A week before trial, whether some of those witnesses will make it to stand for the defense is still contested. According to motions filed in June that are awaiting a judge’s decision, the state intends to limit the testimony of Officer Doug Strosahl, a friend of Ennis who hosted the party, and another woman who was at the party that night.
The defense argues Strosahl observed Ennis and the alleged victim hugging before the rape is said to have occurred, and to the officer, it looked “intimate as opposed to platonic.” According to the motion, Cossey argues Strosahl should be allowed to testify because his “opinion or inference about what type of hug or embrace he observed is profoundly relevant to the defense, and, if offered correctly, is a proper subject for lay witness opinion testimony.”
The state disagrees. In their response filed Feb. 1, attorneys argue Strosahl’s “conclusion as to the nature of the intent/purpose of the hug is speculative.” Attorneys offer other explanations, such as that the hug could have been platonic, could have had no meaning to the victim or Ennis or could have been the result of the victim being intoxicated.
Hanging over the case is still the issue of a fair and impartial jury. In late August, attorneys on both sides filed a joint change of venue motion in response to the first trial ending the same day it was scheduled to begin. One of the 12 jurors apparently read a Spokesman-Review story Cossey considered biased toward the prosecution, and on June 12, Judge James Triplet agreed, declaring the first trial a mistrial.
The joint motion asks Judge Maryann Moreno, who took over for Triplet last summer, still to hold the trial in Spokane County but to have the pool of jurors from outside the area.
In the motion, the state said it had no preference where the trial is conducted but asked the court to summon jurors from a “community that is similar in size given the nature of the case and the number of areas that bias could occur.”
A decision on change of venue has not been reached.
Ennis was one of several police officers and civilians at a party hosted by Strosahl in October 2015. A female officer who knew Ennis reported she passed out after having several drinks and woke up in a guest bedroom with Ennis sitting next to her, his hand down her pants, fondling her.
Ennis reportedly told the woman when she woke up, “I’ve gotta go,” and quickly left.
Court documents say the victim called and texted several people about the assault and talked to Strosahl before leaving his home in the morning. The officer reportedly told her he didn’t know what to do.
She also washed her clothes – which she was borrowing at the time of the assault – before investigators could get a search warrant to request them. Strosahl was investigated for possible evidence tampering but was cleared when witnesses said he went back to bed after he spoke to the victim and was asleep when the victim washed the items.
Sgt. John Gately, then president of the Spokane Police Guild, was caught up in a separate but related case in 2016 that accused him of rendering criminal assistance and obstructing law enforcement officers. Investigators said he tipped Ennis about a search warrant for the woman’s DNA, which gave the police sergeant time to his trim his fingernails. By the time investigators served the warrant, they were too short to collect any evidence.
The two felony criminal assistance charges were dismissed, and Gately instead stood trial on the misdemeanor obstruction charge. The jury deadlocked in favor of acquittal, and the case was not retried.
In early 2017, Gately was suspended for four weeks without pay following an internal investigation. Both Strosahl and Gately are still scheduled to testify.
Following the rape accusation, Ennis was placed on paid administrative leave. He was on unpaid layoff status in December 2015 after felony criminal charges were filed against him.
In June, Judge Triplet ruled Ennis was responsible for witness tampering after he was accused of contacting law enforcement. He did not have to serve jail time.
He remains out of custody on bond.
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