Note: The names of all those involved in the alleged incident, underage girls at the time, have been changed in the narrative below to protect their privacy, including the two who testified today. See the trial’s first-day coverage here, where the same fictional names are used.
There’s malevolent lying in the rape case against 23-year-old Kwentel Moultrie, either by the accused or by the alleged victim. She was 16 at the time. Moultrie was 20. So far, after a day of testimony, the lying is pointing indisputably to Moultrie, though the defense is arguing the whole thing is a cover-up perpetrated by the girl.
Just before jury selection Monday, the court learned that Moultrie had been offered a plea deal that would drastically reduce the first-degree felony rape charge to a third-degree felony count of child abuse. It would even spare him prison. Moultrie turned it down because he would still have to abide by sex-offender conditions for his five years on probation, keeping him from seeing his own daughters.
It looked like Moultrie was taking a grave risk. He now faces a minimum of eight years in prison if convicted, and a maximum of 30. (The lenient deal was yanked off the table earlier this year when Moultrie was charged with second-degree murder in the R-Section home invasion robbery that left a man dead in late December. He did not fire the gun that killed Zaire Roberts. The man he was allegedly trying to rob did. But since Moultrie was allegedly in the act of committing a felony, he was charged for the murder, along with a co-conspirator. None of those elements will be introduced in this trial, though this trial’s outcome may influence the disposition of Moultrie’s murder case.) But the fact that the state offered the deal also suggests that the prosecution may not have felt too confident about its case.
Emily, the alleged victim, was not going to testify. (She lives in the Northeast.) The reliability of the other chief witness for the state, Olivia, was iffy, since she was fall-down drunk in the hours surrounding the alleged assault. The night of the alleged assault Emily herself appears to have let Moultrie and a friend sneak back into the house after Olivia had sent them home: Moultrie doesn’t face a burglary charge. He was invited in. So it was up to the defense to convince the jury that the state had no case. The question was how, since the state possessed Moultrie’s DNA evidence from a rape kit and from the bed where Emily was allegedly assaulted one night in June 2019 in a P-Section house in Palm Coast.
At one point today Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark had a bailiff and Flagler County Sheriff’s detective Joe Costello unfurl the white comforter that had covered the queen-sized bed Olivia and Emily were sleeping in when the alleged rape took place–when Emily woke up from her drunken daze allegedly to find Moultrie on top of her, inside her, despite her entreaties to stop and until she allegedly yelled at him to stop, though by then what would become DNA evidence was in her and on the comforter.
There was no reason for the unfurling other than dramatic effect. The white comforter is ostensibly stained, but it wasn’t as if jurors were going to see the DNA evidence, and Clark didn’t point out any particular area of the comforter. Cases often build or hinge on just such theatrics.
“This case is about a cover-up. That same evidence will prove that Mr. Moultrie is not guilty,” Assistant Public Defender Alexis Nava-Martinez told the jury in her opening arguments this morning, before the big unfurling. She left unspoken Moultrie’s lying to law enforcement about whether he had sex with the girl, since the defense is now conceding he did. But it was consensual, the defense is arguing. “This case is about consent.” If that’s established, Moultrie can’t be accused of rape or even unlawful sex with a minor, since, being 20 at the time, he was within that age exception to that law (he’d have had to be 24 or older for statutory rape to apply).
Not only that: the defense, as happens not infrequently in such cases, is all but blaming the victim as the instigator, the one who lured Moultrie, the one who’d run after him to exchange phone number, the one who’d been drinking all night and throwing up to the point of chipping a tooth during her theatrics, the one who, with her friend, had choreographed a whole night of sneaking around her friend’s sister’s house.
The defense could not get away with painting the 16 year old as a schemer and temptress who got what she wanted then cried rape. Not in #Metoo America in 2022. So it’s doing so by implication–and not always by implication, as Nava-Martinez’s sharply crafted opening put it to the jury in language at times trilling in dog-whistling range: “Pay attention to who is sober and who isn’t.” “Who was the most intoxicated out of the entire group? Where she can’t even walk, she’s throwing up everywhere.” “Who sneaks Kwentel inside of the house when everyone’s gone?” Emily. “Who hid the boys behind the door after [Emily] and Kwentel have sex?” Olivia.
Moultrie, in other words, is being framed. It wouldn’t be the first–or the millionth–time that a Black man is framed for having sex with an underage girl. But again, none of the evidence points to anything of the sort in this case. Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally, who never shies from underscoring racial elements in a case, is staying away from any such suggestion here, even with an all-white jury. And non of the testimony or court documents have either alluded to or would lend themselves to facile interpretations of racial motives on either side. The very same arguments could have been presented had Moultrie been white.
“We believe the evidence will show that this case is all about a cover up, a girl who was scared, got in over her head, had unprotected sex, had a one night stand, and was almost caught by [Olivia]’s sister,” Nava-Martinez said. “This case has no merit. It has no truth. It’s a cover up. A cover up by girls, should not get in trouble when they are caught, drinking under age, when they are caught doing drugs under age, caught sneaking boys out of the house and caught having sex.” The jury might have expected at this point to hear that it would be presented evidence indicating that the girls got in trouble by Olivia’s sister Destiny, at whose house the alleged incident took place. (Destiny lived there with her fiancee. They were asleep at the time.) But there’s been nothing even suggesting that that was the case–not so far.
Instead, Nava-Martinez, who had been going strong until then, turned to inflated rhetoric about Moultrie having “a cloak of innocence covering his entire body given to him by the United States Constitution, and not even the weapons of the prosecution’s evidence will pierce through that.” But it wasn’t the prosecution’s weapons that did it. It was Moultrie himself, doing it to himself from within his cloak: the prosecution played his interview with a detective where he insists in colorful if crassly demeaning language that he’d had no sex with the girl, though she wanted to–with him or with his friend, it wasn’t clear on the often garbled recording as heard in the courtroom. His denials were clear, though.
As were his lies–written, preserved in texts he’d exchanged with two of the girls who’d partied with Emily: “Well i told them me & you fucked that night so jus say we did!” he texted Rachel, an ex-girlfriend who had been part of the partying group that night. Rachel testified today–and said adamantly they ‘d not had sex. “Nobody got fucked last night thats the whole point,” Moultrie told Olivia the day after the party at her sister’s P Section house. He persisted even after she texted him that Emily was getting swabbed for DNA, “because this shit gon get bad if you lie,” she told him presciently. “i came back bc she wanted to fuck my dawg and he told me they never did,” Moultrie texts back. He used almost identical language when speaking to a detective about it.
That night, after Emily, Olivia and friends had met up with Moultrie and his friend at Steak ‘n Shake, they’d all returned to the P Section for a while, were all sent home so Olivia and Emily could go to sleep, only for Moultrie and his friend somehow to reappear in the house–in the girls’ bed. Who let them back in remains unclear, though deduction point to Emily.
But it wasn’t as if Nava-Martinez could ask the bailiffs and a witness to unfurl Moultrie’s “cloak of innocence” in the courtroom: that’s where the difference was today, between the prosecution’s evidence (and theatrics) and the defense’s rhetoric, plus numerous procedural objections Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally made to the state pushing and pushing on using hearsay evidence, and Circuit Judge Terence Perkins again and again allowing it under one exception or another.
Olivia was on the stand for most of the morning–the Olivia the defense had painted as too drunk to stand up that night, as one who threw up repeatedly, including in the bedroom near the time of the alleged assault, and who had sneaked around in hopes of deceiving her sister from finding out drinking and partying had been going on. But if the defense was hoping to tap into that dissolution for the jury, Olivia thwarted it, coming off instead as poised enough and unflappable enough to recount events that night to the extent possible, without seeming to contradict herself unreasonably despite obvious haze and confusion about the moments that led up to the alleged assault and immediately afterward.
One moment in particular: Olivia’s sister’s puppy at one point patted down the hallway and whined, threatening to wake up her sister. Olivia got up, grabbed the dog, and handed it to her sister, who had actually woken up–but not gone far enough into her sister’s bedroom to discover the boys, who by then were hiding there. The older sister went back to bed. Olivia went back to the room and ordered the boys out for good this time. The defense is arguing that Olivia did all this after the alleged rape–which couldn’t have been anything other than consensual, if Olivia was able to go through all those motions untroubled by what had allegedly occurred to her friend in the bedroom.
But there was no haze, no confusion–and no hint of theatrics–in Olivia twice breaking down when she recalled seeing someone or something hovering over Emily, and again when she recalled hearing Emily crying, saying she thought Moultrie had raped her, that she was in pain, and asking her to examine her private parts to figure out what had happened. Olivia described seing evidence no one would mistake for anything else. “She said my body hurts, she said I don’t really understand what happened,” Olivia testified, “she’s saying he raped me, she’s just crying at that time.”
The next day Rachel–the friend who’d testified today–drove Emily and Olivia to walk-in clinics as Olivia was hoping to get examined. That did not happen until nearly midnight, when a family friend took her to AdventHealth Palm Coast, where a sexual assault nurse examiner conducted the exam and she had her first contact with a sheriff’s detective. The investigation began at that point. There has still been no suggestion of a “cover-up,” no motive of a cover-up–other than the very common habit of teens to hide their occasional partying–to the point of going through the traumas and humiliations of a rape exam: the discordance between the defense’s claim and the alleged victim’s behavior in the aftermath of the incident remains as the prosecution is one witness away from resting.
That witness, testifying Wednesday, is a DNA expert, the expert who will speak to the one-in-700 billion possibility that the DNA found that night in the bed Emily slept in is not that of Moultrie. There are only 8 billion people on earth.