It took an eight-woman, four-man jury approximately 25 minutes to find Robert Thomas Hess not guilty of sexual battery Thursday afternoon in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court.
Hess was indicted in November 2012 on one count of sexual battery after he was arrested by Wintersville Police on Sept. 26, 2012, one day after he allegedly raped a homeless woman he met walking on Sunset Boulevard.
He has remained in the county jail for 22 months until his release.
"Mr. Hess maintained his innocence since the beginning. He was very happy the jury confirmed his innocent of all allegations. He did not commit the crime which he was charged with and is now a free man," said defense attorney Steven Stickles, who was appointed to represent Hess.
Stickles said Hess spent approximately one year of the 22 months in jail on a contempt charge because he refused to submit a DNA sample to investigators.
According to Jefferson County Assistant Prosecutor Edward Littlejohn Jr., Hess was a sexual predator who coerced the victim into providing him what he wanted for letting her stay at his house on Sept. 25, 2012.
"The victim was walking on Sunset Boulevard when she met Robert Thomas Hess. She was homeless and needed a place to stay. She starts to fall asleep on the couch and he then begins to touch her. He grabbed a knife and pointed it at her and tells her what he expects. He raped her and she then walked to the Wintersville Burger King where she uses a phone to call 911," Littlejohn said in his opening statement.
"Sometimes people bargain for one thing and they get another thing. Mr. Hess didn't force himself on the victim. That night she walked from Toronto to Wintersville and they made a business agreement. She held up her end of the bargain but he didn't hold up his end of the bargain. This wasn't forced sex. No woman should have to endure sexual battery. This is the world's oldest profession and she didn't make money," Stickles said.
Littlejohn called nine witnesses for the prosecution, including the alleged victim, before he rested his case at 2:20 p.m.
"I came to Steubenville about two years ago with my ex-boyfriend to stay with his grandfather. We were homeless in Florida. We then moved out of his grandfather's house to his friend's place in Toronto for two or three months. But we got into an argument and she told us to leave. I took off walking and walked to Steubenville to try and find my ex-boyfriend's grandfather' house. I ran into Robert Hess and asked him for directions. I kept walking and the whole time Robert Hess kept talking to me. He offered to let me stay at his house and decide what to do the next morning," she testified.
"When we got to his place he made me an iced tea and I sat down on his couch because I was really tired. I fell asleep and woke up when he started touching me. I told him three times to stop. I was scared and in survival mode. After he was finished I told him he had just raped me and I told him 'I am going to get you,'" she continued.
Stickles had no witnesses for the defense and the jury was sent into deliberations at 3:35 p.m. and returned with the not guilty verdict at 4:05 p.m.