An Iowa jury on Wednesday found a longtime state lawmaker not guilty of sexually abusing his wife, who suffered from dementia — an unusual case that centered on when a person is no longer mentally capable of consenting to sex.
After about 13 hours of deliberation over three days, jurors found Henry Rayhons, 78, not guilty of third-degree sexual abuse of his wife, Donna Lou Rayhons. He was accused of having sex with her at a nursing home in May after being told by staff that she was no longer capable of consenting because of dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease. She died in August.
Henry Rayhons testified in his defense that on the night in question the couple held hands, prayed and kissed but had no sexual contact.
The case attracted widespread attention in a nation where more than 5 million people live with Alzheimer’s disease, which is often associated with the elderly.
Jurors weighed testimony from family members, doctors and investigators throughout the trial in Hancock County Court. Rayhons' defense attorney said a guilty verdict could raise fears that any interaction between spouses could be interpreted as sexual abuse. Prosecutors said a not guilty verdict would put others with dementia at risk of being harmed.
Iowa law defines an act as sexual abuse in the third degree if the two parties are not living together as husband and wife and if one person "is suffering from a mental defect or incapacity which precludes giving consent."
Mark Kosieradzki, a Minneapolis-based attorney who has tried numerous cases of sexual abuse in nursing homes, said it wasn't clear whether the jury concluded that she was able to consent or if they decided that the prosecution had failed to prove that sex took place on that day.
"But the legal question doesn't change. It should always be a matter of consent of the patient," Kosieradzki said.
Jurors on Tuesday submitted a note to the judge, asking how many days are included in the prosecution's allegation that a sex act occurred "on or about" May 23. The court answered that a set number of days couldn't be provided.
Henry Rayhons and Donna Lou Rayhons were married for seven years — the second marriage for both, after each was widowed. The dispute began last year when Donna Lou Rayhons' health deteriorated and she was moved to a nursing home in the town of Garner.
The family conflict that erupted between Henry Rayhons and his wife's daughters from her previous marriage over how to care for her culminated in a meeting in which the nursing home staff briefly told Henry Rayhons that his wife was no longer mentally capable of legally consenting to sex. In his testimony, Rayhons said he thought this was a doctor's advice, not an order.
Donna Lou Rayhons' daughters declined comment through an attorney after the verdict Wednesday.
"Our office prosecuted this case based on a complaint, thorough law enforcement investigation and Iowa law," said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the Iowa attorney general's office. "The jury made its decision, which we respect."
The nonprofit Alzheimer's Association said it was not taking a position on the case but said that it highlighted the importance of conversations about patients' capacity for decision-making.
Henry Rayhons served 18 years as a Republican member of the Iowa House. He withdrew from the race for another term shortly before he was charged last year.
The Associated Press