The rape conviction of a Zambian immigrant in Lake County, outside Chicago, has been overturned by an Illinois appellate court that found prosecutors had failed to prove their case, and committed several acts of misconduct, among them calling the defendant (a black African), “a ‘predator’ who took ‘a piece of meat’ home with him,” and sitting in the witness box while making arguments to the jury “designed to evoke sympathy for S.B. [the alleged victim], and disgust for defendant.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, “The ruling is the latest strike against a prosecutor’s office that has compiled a lengthy history of court reversals. Under former State’s Attorney Michael Waller, who retired in 2012 after 22 years in office, Lake County prosecutors earned a reputation for zealously pursuing defendants even after evidence had suggested their innocence.”
While Waller’s replacement, current State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim, promised reform of the office and has, according to the paper, “cleared several men prosecuted by his predecessor,” he is defending this prosecution and currently deciding whether to appeal.
Nsoni Mpulamasaka immigrated to the United States in hopes of becoming a pharmacist, before he was charged with rape in 2011 following a sexual encounter with a learning-disabled Evanston woman (S.B.), which Mpulamasaka has consistently maintained was consensual. Much of the appellate court’s decision is taken up with a discussion of prosecutors’ failure to prove the use of force and a lack of consent on S.B.’s part beyond a reasonable doubt, specifically their failure to establish that S.B.’s learning disability made her categorically unable to consent.
Notwithstanding this failure, the appellate court held, prosecutors’ achieved their conviction through multiple instances of improper argument, and line-crossing in their conduct with the jury.
- “The State knew that it had failed to establish that S.B. was unable to consent and that defendant knew as much, yet argued repeatedly that the jury should consider S.B.’s ‘disability’ on the issue of force in that defendant ‘manipulated’ S.B. During its closing and rebuttal arguments, the State made 21 direct references to S.B.’s intellectual limitations…It is improper for the prosecution to direct the jury’s attention away from the elements of the crime to issues irrelevant to the question of guilt or innocence.”
- “In its closing argument, the State called defendant a predator three times. In rebuttal, it again repeatedly called defendant a predator. The State depicted defendant as a ‘predator’ who took ‘a piece of meat’ home with him. Each of these comments was clearly improper and was an attempt to cultivate anger toward defendant.”
- “[P]rosecutors repeatedly argued that S.B.’s testimony on cross-examination was not her own words, but instead was the product of her being ‘led down a path she had no control of.’ There was no evidence in the record from which it could reasonably be inferred that S.B. had any difficulty in understanding defense counsel’s questions.”
- In discussing Assistant State’s Attorney Reginald Mathews’ decision to sit in the witness stand during closing arguments to the jury, the court held: “We find that by taking the witness stand to argue S.B.’s credibility the prosecutor did cross the line. There is no question that his intent was to silently vouch for S.B. A remark that pledges a prosecutor’s personal or professional reputation for the credibility of a witness is improper.”
Cumulatively, the court concluded, these acts of misconduct had “severely prejudiced defendant’s case” and together with the prosecution’s failure to prove the use of force or the absence of the alleged victim’s consent, were sufficient to reverse the jury verdict.
According to the Tribune, “Mpulamasaka, now 30, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and he remained held at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg in western Illinois…Mpulamasaka’s attorney at trial, Jed Stone, said he did not expect him to be released immediately.”