Supreme Court Reinstates Man's Gang Rape Conviction

Supreme Court Reinstates Man's Gang Rape Conviction

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A brief conversation between a prospective juror and a police detective wasn't significant enough to invalidate a man's conviction on gang rape charges, the Utah Supreme Court said Friday.

The decision reinstated six sexual assault convictions for Matthew Stephen Shipp, which had been overturned in a February 2004 Court of Appeals ruling.

"We're elated that the court has seen that what happened between the juror and witness was inconsequential," Utah Assistant Attorney General Matthew Bates said. "We're glad the victim and others won't have to go through a new trial, and that the defendant is going to get the justice that is due."

Shipp's attorney, Walter Bugden, maintained Friday the relationship between the prospective juror -- later seated on the jury -- and the detective were known, he would have stricken her from the jury.

"It creates an impossible burden for the defense to exclude someone who has a bias," he said.

Shipp and two friends were accused in the gang rape of a woman in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 2001. Prosecutors claimed that the men took photographs of the sex acts, laughed and "high-fived" each other. The woman had passed out after smoking marijuana and drinking in Shipp's apartment.

The defense moved for a mistrial in August 2002 after the jury found Shipp guilty of six counts of aggravated sexual assault. That came after the detective told court officials that the woman, a hospital employee, approached him as all prospective jurors were being seated and she recognized him from the hospital.

During a subsequent court investigation, the woman was asked in a special hearing why she didn't acknowledge that conversation with the detective when asked if she knew or recognized the names of any of the state's witnesses.

She replied, "I guess I didn't, because I don't really know him. I just recognized him as a detective," according to court documents.

Although the juror "admits to have recognized the detective's face, her testimony is clear that she did not know him beyond that superficial recognition," the Supreme Court decision says. "Consequently, we conclude that it was not error, clear or otherwise, for the district court to find that recognizing the face of an individual one has seen in a hospital three of four times does not amount to knowing that person."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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