A Rock County trial for Kelly L. Baxter, accused of sexually assaulting a 78-year-old Janesville woman nearly 18 years ago, ended in a mistrial late Tuesday night.
At 8 p.m., the jury of nine women and three men told Judge James Daley they were deadlocked and asked to listen to a reading of the transcript. They deliberated until 10:55 p.m., when they announced that they could not reach a verdict.
Daley set a new trial for May 8-9 with a final pretrial May 3.
Key to the case is DNA analysis of a blood stain on a sheet that was on the bed on April 1, 2000, when the woman was assaulted. It was the only evidence that placed Baxter in the house.
The woman fought and scratched her assailant, she told a police officer and medical personnel soon after the assault.
But the victim died in 2011, six years before the state Crime Lab found a match between the blood stain and DNA of Baxter, now 54, of 106 Cherry St., Janesville.
Baxter was the last to testify Tuesday, and he told of being in the house where the assault took place sometime around 2000.
He was there to help a woman who wanted some wood in her basement cut so it could be removed, he said, and Brian Hansen, the late funeral director, had brought him there to help the lady.
Hansen died in 2015.
Baxter said he was in the basement for a short time, lost his balance—which he said happens as a result of being electrocuted several years earlier—and hit his head, realizing only later that he cut it.
Baxter said laundry was hanging from a line in the basement at the time.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Philip Brehm said it’s plausible that that’s how Baxter’s DNA got on the sheet, and the other blood stains on the sheet were from the victim, who had cut her leg that night. Only one sample from the sheet was tested.
Assistant District Attorney Rich Sullivan in his closing statement called that story ridiculous.
“What you heard from the defendant was not credible and certainly was not reasonable,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said it was interesting that Baxter came up with the story after he learned that the sheet contained his DNA. Brehm argued that Baxter knew he didn’t commit the crime, so he wracked his brain before he recalled the brief time he spent in the house 17 years before.
“Sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction,” Brehm said.
Brehm pointed out that the victim described her assailant as wearing a hoodie and having his T-shirt pulled over his face, but during a struggle she estimated lasted 30 minutes, she was able to see dark hair and a ponytail and hear a “Hispanic” accent.
Baxter has always kept his hair short, his brother and sister-in-law testified, and Brehm said, and Baxter is not Hispanic and does not look Hispanic.
Sullivan said that to a woman who was fighting to keep a man from sexually assaulting her, a hoodie that had fallen back off his head might look like a ponytail.
Brehm pointed out that Baxter’s DNA was not found under the victim’s fingernails or elsewhere on her body, and his fingerprints were not found in the house.
Sullivan noted fingerprints are rarely found, and in this case, the only print in the house was a palm print from the victim.
Sullivan said it was clear Baxter faked the accent, and the victim was not wearing her glasses, and it was dark in the room at 5 a.m., so she couldn’t see her assailant very well.
Sullivan described the assault without getting too specific. He emphasized the fact that the home’s phone line was cut, and someone had kicked in an outside door to the basement.
“This was a violent attack on a 78-year-old woman,” he said.
Sullivan noted Baxter lived four or five houses away from the victim. He said it was clear from the facts that Baxter entered the house with the intention of sexually assaulting the woman. Nothing was found missing from the home.
Brehm said no one should have to go through that kind of assault, and everyone would want the person who did it held accountable, “but .. we want the right person held accountable.”
Brehm noted the victim could not have identified Baxter in a photo lineup because she died before he was suspected in the crime.
Brehm talked of footprints found near the house and a cigarette butt found outside, close to the neighbor house. DNA from the butt was a mixture of two people’s DNA, including one male, but not Baxter’s, a state DNA analyst testified.
Brehm suggested the person who smoked that Camel cigarette might have been the assailant, saying the cold, damp conditions meant the butt would not have survived intact for very long.
“Science proves this case,” Sullivan argued, adding that Baxter’s story had “more holes in it than the Titanic.”