An attorney for a man accused of raping his ex-girlfriend at gunpoint in her Lacey apartment last year said the sex was consensual, that his client was armed with a firearm only because he always legally carries one, and that he did not threaten her life during the encounter.
Jurors heard opening statements in the trial of Aaron Mercedes Johnson, 29, Wednesday morning in Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon’s courtroom. Johnson is charged with first-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree burglary, all while armed with a deadly weapon. Johnson is additionally charged with felony harassment, felony stalking and fourth-degree assault.
Johnson’s charges stem from the alleged rape and from an incident about a month later, when he was accused of violating the conditions of his bail requiring him to stay away from her when he followed her in a black BMW on state Route 512 in Pierce County.
During opening statements, Johnson’s attorney, Matthew Lapin of Seattle, focused on the fact that Johnson, who was honorably discharged from the military in 2007 after serving in the Middle East, and who worked in private security after returning to Washington, always carried a firearm.
“Everybody who knows Mr. Johnson knows that he always carries a firearm,” Lapin said. Lapin added that Johnson had a concealed-carry permit, and he indeed did bring a firearm to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment on College Street on the morning of May 14, when the alleged rape occurred.
Lapin conceded that Johnson’s “on-again, off-again” relationship with his ex-girlfriend was dysfunctional, but said that the two agreed to have sex when he went to her apartment May 14 to try to patch up the relationship. Lapin said Johnson never took the gun from its holster during the entire encounter in the apartment, and Johnson said he wanted to kill himself while there, but never threatened the ex-girlfriend.
“He went over there, not for the purpose of threatening her or trying to scare her, but to try and win her back,” Lapin said.
Deputy prosecuting attorney Brandi Archer told the jury during her opening statement that they will hear testimony from the ex-girlfriend that Johnson waited outside her apartment unannounced the morning of May 14, and when she left for work, he forced his way in and told her “she would not be going to work that day.” The ex-girlfriend will also testify that he then told her “that he was going to kill her, then himself.” The ex-girlfriend also will testify that Johnson showed her the gun he was wearing in a holster, Archer said. The ex-girlfriend also saw that Johnson brought a billy club and a backpack containing a large knife, zip ties and several pairs of gloves, Archer added.
Lapin told the jury that Johnson carried those items in his backpack because of his military background and his job working in security. Lapin added that Johnson brought the backpack into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment that day because he never leaves it in his car, for fear of the items being stolen.
When Johnson demanded sex, the ex-girlfriend complied “as a means of survival,” Archer said. She “felt that that was her only way out.”
Lapin told the jury that the ex-girlfriend’s claims about Johnson threatening her life are not to be believed. He also pointed to the fact that she waited five hours before reporting the rape to police and first went to work at a bank in Pierce County as suggestive that the sex was consensual.
Lapin repeated to the jury that Johnson has always told police “I did not rape that person, and I did not threaten to kill her.”
During Lapin’s opening statement, he did not address the incident when Johnson allegedly violated the conditions of his release by following his ex-girlfriend on state Route 512 in Pierce County. According to the Washington State Patrol, who arrested Johnson after he allegedly followed her on state Route 512 in June, a trooper found “a woman’s wig, some oversized sunglasses, a pair of black gloves and a roll of duct tape,” in Johnson’s car that day.
In other testimony Wednesday, the alleged victim’s sister testified about how distraught her sister was when she called her after the alleged rape on May 14. “The whole time she was crying, screaming, yelling into the phone,” she told the jury of her sister’s demeanor.
Both Johnson and his ex-girlfriend are expected to testify during the trial.