Jurors deadlocked Thursday on charges that three high school students raped a UCLA freshman after they left a tour of the university and made their way into a campus dormitory.
The defendants had argued that the sex was consensual, and several jurors said after the trial that the accuser's credibility was an issue.
"There was never any question that what they did wasn't the smartest thing," said a juror who would identify herself only as Candace, a Culver City resident. "But that does not make them rapists."
The jury of nine women and three men deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal for Jamar Dawson and Chuwan Anthony, both 18, on charges of rape and forcible oral copulation. The jury was more evenly divided on those charges against Deshawn Carter Stringer, 19.
As the verdicts were read, the defendants stared straight ahead. Two jurors began crying, one holding her head in her hands. Family and friends of the defendants cried silently, and some said, "Thank you, Jesus."
The accuser was not in the courtroom.
Throughout the trial, defense lawyers argued that consent was the crucial issue, contending that the alleged victim, identified only as Jane Doe, never said "No." The jurors said her believability created a problem.
The incident began when the three young men, at the time students at Carson High School, broke away from a tour of the campus and began entering residence halls.
Their accuser said she was at her desk writing an essay when she heard a knock. She testified that the three young men identified themselves as football players from a Florida college who planned to transfer to UCLA.
She said that she allowed Stringer into her room and that he began to make sexually suggestive comments. She testified that after Stringer raped her, the other two walked into her room uninvited and did the same.
Several hours later, the young woman, accompanied by friends, reported the incident at the campus police station.
The three men, however, said that the sex was consensual and that the woman even gave Stringer her telephone number and e-mail address. She testified that she did so to get them to leave.
Juror Nkechi Odili-Obi, 23, said the woman's entire story was not believable.
"It's not so far-fetched to me that today a female would go and have consensual sex with three men after 10 minutes of meeting them," she said. "It wasn't that I believed the defendants; I just didn't believe Jane Doe, and once I didn't believe her, that was it for me."
Another key issue was the woman's actions after the incident. She testified that she finished her paper, attended a class and stopped by the student health center for a "morning after" pill. She did not report the attack for three hours, according to court documents.
"There were a lot of holes in her testimony," Candace said. "I had a hard time believing that someone's grades were more important to them than their body or who they are in the world."
Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said prosecutors would decide whether to retry the three. All were found not guilty of burglary, forcible rape in concert and forcible oral copulation in concert.
Only Stringer was convicted of a separate charge of sexual battery for grabbing another female student's buttocks in another dormitory on the same day in December 2002.
After the verdict, the three defendants thanked and sometimes hugged each juror they could find.
"It's over," Stringer said. "All the time, I knew I was innocent."
Frank Williams Jr., Dawson's lawyer, said his client "has been vilified through this whole thing."
"Today's the day I felt people saw them for the human beings they are," he said. "They're not rapists; these are children."
Dawson, who will graduate from Carson High School next month, said the case "made me grow up overnight. I feel like back then I was 16 with the mentality of a 14-year-old. Now, I'm 18 with the mentality of a 25-year-old."
The defendants and their families said they are looking forward to the future.
"This morning when we were leaving, we all said it's just time to turn the page," said Amy Dawson, the mother of Dawson and foster mother of Stringer.
Stringer, a sophomore at Compton College, is due back in court June 21 for sentencing on the sexual battery charge. He faces up to six months in jail.