A copy of a computer hard drive, central to the Thomas Bray rape trial, will be preserved in the event of an appeal, Deschutes County Circuit Judge Roger DeHoog ruled Friday.
Bray, 38, was sentenced to 25 years in prison last month for the February 2011 rape of Jennifer Bennett. Bennett, then 23, had met Bray on an online dating site and a few days later met him for a drink in downtown Bend. He invited her to his nearby apartment for a glass of wine, where he raped and assaulted her repeatedly over the course of the next several hours, according to testimony at his trial.
Over the months leading up to Bray’s trial in July, Bray’s defense team made repeated attempts to gain access to Bennett’s computer. Bennett had told police she’d gone online to look for information about Bray and the legal definition of rape the morning after he raped her.
Bennett refused to turn over the computer to the defense, while Google refused to turn over her search history without a court order or Bennett’s consent.
Defense attorney Stephen Houze fought all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court, which ruled in June that her search activity should be turned over to the defense.
But Bennett did not turn over her computer. Instead, two copies of her hard drive were produced and given to Bend attorney Jennifer Coughlin, who Bennett retained to represent her in a $1.975 million civil suit against Bray. The Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office did not comply with a court order to obtain Bennett’s search records from Google.
Houze continued to insist on his right to examine Bennett’s computer and her search activity through Bray’s trial. July 31, Judge Stephen Tiktin found Bray guilty on six charges involving Bennett, and not guilty on five charges stemming from Bray’s relationship with a woman who was a student in the class he taught at Central Oregon Community College.
Bray is currently being held at the Coffee Creek Intake Center near Wilsonville pending his transfer to a state prison.
After Bray’s sentencing, Coughlin said Bennett asked her Oct. 1 to drop the civil suit. Coughlin said Bennett felt Bray’s conviction was sufficient to hold him accountable, and she was not interested in going through a second trial. However, a search of state court records on Friday indicates the civil suit has not yet been withdrawn.
In his ruling, DeHoog wrote that his decision should not be interpreted to mean that the contents of Bennett’s computer or her search records should have been admitted at trial, or that they would have had any effect on the verdict. Those questions, DeHoog wrote, are for the Court of Appeals to address.
In an email Friday, Houze said he must legally protect the copy of Bennett’s computer as evidence now that Coughlin has indicated the civil suit will be dismissed.
Efforts to contact Coughlin and Deschutes County District Attorney Patrick Flaherty on Friday were unsuccessful.