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Henry Rayhons acquitted of sexual abuse of wife, an Alzheimer's patient

A jury in Iowa has acquitted a longtime state lawmaker accused of sexually abusing his wife, an Alzheimer's patient, bringing to a close a trial that raised questions about the capacity of people with dementia to consent to sex.

Rayhons, a state politician, resigned from office shortly before firestorm case

Henry Rayhons gets ready to leave court in Garner, Iowa on March 15. The nursing home staff caring for Rayhons'd wife, Donna Lou Rayhons, told the former Iowa lawmaker that his wife of seven years was no longer mentally capable of legally consenting to have sex. (Jeff Heinz/The Globe Gazette/The Associated Press)

A jury in Iowa has acquitted a longtime state lawmaker accused of sexually abusing his wife, an Alzheimer's patient, bringing to a close a trial that raised questions about the capacity of people with dementia to consent to sex.

After about 13 hours of deliberation over three days, jurors on Wednesday found Henry Rayhons, 78, not guilty of third-degree sexual abuse of his wife, Donna Lou Rayhons, who died in August. He was accused of having sex with her at a nursing home in May after being told by staff that she was no longer capable of consenting due to dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease.

Henry Rayhons testified in his own defense that on the night in question the couple held hands, prayed and kissed, but had no sexual contact.

"The truth finally came out," Rayhons said after the verdict, noting that he believed his wife was "with him" throughout the trial.

Jurors weighed testimony from family members, doctors and investigators throughout the trial in Hancock County Court. Rayhons' defense attorney said a guilty verdict could raise fears that any interaction between spouses could be interpreted as sexual abuse. Prosecutors said a not guilty verdict would put others with dementia at risk of being harmed.

Iowa law defines an act as sexual abuse in the third degree if the two parties are not living together as husband and wife and if one person "is suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent."

"Our office prosecuted this case based on a complaint, thorough law enforcement investigation, and Iowa law," said Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General's Office. "The jury made its decision, which we respect."

Mark Kosieradzki, a Minneapolis-based attorney who has tried numerous cases of sexual abuse in nursing homes, said it wasn't clear whether the jury concluded that she was able to consent or if they decided that the prosecution had failed to prove that sex took place on that day.

"But the legal question doesn't change. It should always be a matter of consent of the patient," Kosieradzki said.

Jurors sent note to judge for clarification

Jurors on Tuesday submitted a note to the judge, asking how many days were included in the prosecution's allegation that a sex act occurred "on or about" May 23. The court answered that a set number of days couldn't be provided.

Henry and Donna Lou Rayhons were married for seven years, the second marriage for both after they had been widowed. The dispute began last year when Donna Lou Rayhons's health deteriorated and she was moved to a nursing home in the town of Garner.

The family conflict that erupted between Henry Rayhons and his wife's daughters from her previous marriage over how to care for her culminated in a meeting in which the nursing home staff briefly told Rayhons that his wife was no longer mentally capable of legally consenting to sex. In his testimony, Rayhons said he thought this was a doctor's advice, not an order.

Donna Lou Rayhons's daughters declined comment through an attorney after the verdict Wednesday.

During the trial, nursing home staffers testified that Donna Lou Rayhons's roommate talked about the couple having sex behind a curtain, but in testimony the roommate said she was unsure whether the noises she heard that day were sexual in nature.

Prosecutors said investigators found DNA evidence on sheets and a quilt in his wife's room. They also played a recorded interview with an investigator that showed that Rayhons initially said he and his wife never had sex at the nursing home, but later said they had a few times, and possibly briefly on the day in question.

Security camera video from the night of the alleged incident was also aired in court, showing Henry Rayhons going into his wife's room, staying there for about half an hour and depositing something into a laundry cart on his way out. Rayhons's attorney said his client frequently dropped his wife's laundry into the bin, but prosecutors said he was trying to discard evidence.

The nonprofit Alzheimer's Association said it was not taking a position on the case but noted the importance of conversations about patients' capacity for decision-making.

Rayhons served 18 years as a Republican member of the Iowa House. He withdrew from the race for another term shortly before he was charged last year.

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