The Stigma

Kevin Driscoll never could have anticipated that an ill-advised one-night stand would lead to charges of sexual misconduct that would cost him his home, his job, and his wife-to-be. And even though a jury found him not guilty, he must now live with one of the last indelible taints in society—the rape accusation.

Kevin Driscoll was sitting In a lecture hall before the first session of his communications class at Portland Community College in Oregon when a cute girl in the seat behind him tapped him on the shoulder. At six feet five and 230 pounds, Driscoll is intimidating physically, but he has an approachable, slightly goofy manner.

"I know you from somewhere," she said. "You used to live in Redmond, right?" Driscoll panicked and abruptly turned around without answering her question, just as class began. For the first hour of the lecture, he heard a hum in place of the instructor's voice. If this girl knew him from his former hometown, it could be for only one reason. Later, during a break, when she approached and told him she'd been texting someone else from Redmond during class, he knew what they must have been saying.

Almost two and a half years earlier, on a Saturday morning in January 2009, Driscoll was home getting ready to go to a boat show with his fiancée, Torrey Dunn, and her two kids. He wanted to check out accessories for a 19-foot Maxum ski boat he'd recently bought, adding to a toy collection that included an 1130CC Harley V-Rod and a pair of Polaris snowmobiles. As he was packing the car, Driscoll got a call on his cell phone. "I don't know if you know who this is or not," the caller said, "but, um, this is the girl from the other night." He remembered her as the pale brunette with the big smile he'd picked up two nights earlier at the Tumble Inn, a dive bar a couple of miles from his home in Redmond. They talked for a few minutes. The woman said she was in a relationship and was freaked out about contracting an STD. Driscoll assured her that he was clean but promised he'd get tested again. "Like, why didn't you just stop, like, when I was trying to tell you no?" she casually added. "Well, you didn't say no," he responded. Soon the woman wished Driscoll a good day, and he hung up, perplexed. He got everyone in the car and started to drive, but he didn't get far—a police car pulled him over a few blocks away, in front of Pappy's Pizzeria. Moments later, four more squad cars appeared. The officers, their hands on their guns, ordered Driscoll and Dunn out of the car. One took Driscoll aside and told him he'd have to come down to the station. Driscoll asked for a minute to talk to Dunn, who was getting visibly upset. "That cop told me you beat some girl to death and raped her," Driscoll recalls her screaming as he walked toward her. "What the fuck is going on?!"

And so began Kevin Driscoll's nightmare. Charges of first-degree rape—three counts. A very public humiliation. Two trials. And the loss of just about everything he valued in life. After two years, Driscoll was acquitted of all charges—when the not-guilty verdict was handed down, each of the jurors shook his hand—but to him that's no more than a footnote to the fact that he will forever live under a cloud of accusation, a pariah. Last Halloween he ran into two friends who hadn't spoken with him since he was taken into custody. "I heard everything worked out for you," one had said. "Yep, that's what I heard too," Driscoll said.

At the police station, Driscoll was taken to a bare interrogation room. "Do you want to talk with me about what happened the other night?" an officer asked. Driscoll gave the following account: He'd had some drinks with his buddies at a few bars around town. When they got to the last one, the Tumble Inn, they met a group of people. He invited the whole party to go hot-tubbing at his place. A girl asked if she could crash at his house, and he later found her in his bed, naked. They had sex that night and again in the morning. He drove her back to her car, dropped her off, and gave her his number, but he never thought he'd see her again. The officer stopped him there.

"I know who the girl is, I've talked to her," the cop said, "and her version of the story is different." He went on to tell Driscoll that the girl had been so badly beaten that "she had bruises like you'd have in a terrible car collision." He described her as having bruises on her arms, legs, and vagina, plus a bite mark on her shoulder. The officer wanted to hear Driscoll's story again—with more details. "Did you kiss her breasts?" the officer asked. "I did," he responded. "She called me a big boy," he said of their failed attempt to have anal sex. Driscoll begged the officers to take his fingerprints or to give him a polygraph—anything to prove his innocence. He admitted biting her during their sex play. "She liked it," he said weakly. The officer didn't buy it. "This is your chance to show a little remorse," he said. At that, Driscoll lost what composure he had left, alternating between screaming and whining to the officer that the sex was consensual. Admit the truth, the cop told him, and you'll feel better.

Driscoll's accuser first claimed she was raped a few hours after he had dropped her off, in a text message to her boyfriend that read: "i need to tell u something last night one of the dudes i thought was gay so raped me. i am freaking out idk what to do." According to testimony she gave to police the day before Driscoll was apprehended, the woman said Driscoll claimed to have been too drunk to drive her home at the end of the night, so she stayed in his guest room. Later that night, she said, she was awoken by Driscoll grabbing both of her arms and pinning them over her head. He then forced his penis inside her while she struggled to get free. He tried to penetrate her anally. She resisted and hit him. Afterward, he stood at the foot of the bed to prevent her from leaving, and after a short period of time he proceeded to rape her again. She told the police she didn't bother to fight back that time.

After questioning Driscoll for two and a half hours, officers cuffed him and charged him with not just three counts of first-degree rape but also with first-degree sodomy, first-degree unlawful penetration, first-degree sex abuse, and fourth-degree assault. His attorney, Ted Coran, who he retained through the United Defense Group for $40,000, told Driscoll that he might have to come up with $1 million in bail or he might have to stay in jail until his trial, which could be a year or more away.

Quickly, the dominoes began to fall. Two days after Driscoll was charged, he says, the police faxed his arrest report to his office at the Federal Aviation Administration. And that was the end of his $80,000-a-year job as an electrical engineer at the Bend airport, where he'd spent years working on landing systems and radar. He lost his fiancée, too. Dunn didn't think he was a rapist, but she couldn't forgive him for cheating. "Torrey called me," recalls Driscoll's mother, Nancy Trevana, "and I was just going about my normal life, and she said, 'Kevin was arrested and he's in jail for rape, and he's your fucking problem.'" In Redmond (population 25,000), a charming mountainside town that's one of the fastest growing municipalities in Oregon, local news is big news. Some days, the TV station would run a story about Driscoll on the morning, afternoon, and evening news broadcasts, sometimes breaking into daytime programming for updates, such as when he pleaded not guilty to all charges at his arraignment. They broadcast his address. Reporters swarmed his subdivision, which they noted was near an elementary school, stoking the fears of his fellow residents. "It's quiet, you know, and nice, nice people—nice neighborhood to live in," one neighbor told the TV station. "But you never know who's around." Most of Driscoll's friends learned about his arrest from the media. Angela Dundas, who had known Driscoll for about five years, remembers falling asleep in front of the television and waking up to his mug shot on the 11 o'clock news. It was so surreal that she texted him immediately. It didn't occur to her that he was in jail and unable to answer.

Driscoll was held in the Deschutes County jail, where even among hardened criminals, rapists are seen as a lower life-form. Other inmates sought him out to start fights in the halls and in the showers. Had he not been so physically imposing, it's likely Driscoll would have faced worse. Finally, after several weeks, he caught a break—the judge agreed to remand him to house arrest on $50,000 bail with the condition that his mother move in and supervise him. In one day, she was forced to give up her life: She quit her job as a bank manager in Eugene and moved two and a half hours away to room with her housebound 30-year-old son. She was one of the few people who could raise his spirits, and one of the few who even tried.

As the news reports continued to paint Driscoll as a rapist, most of those closest to him kept their distance. Almost none of his male friends would speak to him, including the two who were out with him the night he met the woman who accused him. It was his female friends who regularly came to his house and offered support. Most of the time, Driscoll was in bed or on his deck, staring at his boat. He watched all of Lost in one week. "I tried drinking myself stupid, but that didn't do crap," he says. "There were many times when I was curled up in my closet, bawling." He had been a friendly, unguarded guy, but now he shut down. During the one hour a week he was allowed off the premises, he went to stores on the other side of town, where he hoped to avoid anyone he knew. He caught a glimpse of his accuser one day at Wal-Mart and fled.

• • •

Meanwhile, the wheels of justice were rolling slowly—for nearly a year, Driscoll was in limbo, unsure when or if he would be put on trial. Frustrated, he asked his half-brother Brian Buchanan, who sometimes worked as a private investigator, to assist in his defense. Driscoll remembered that he had installed security cameras to protect his property while he traveled for engineering jobs at other airports. He had his brother retrieve the tapes while he was in jail, and when he was released on house arrest he took them to his attorney's office and was shocked by what they contained. In one scene, as the group hangs out on one side of the driveway, a woman, who appears to be Driscoll's accuser, and who is hidden from view of the crowd by his boat, is clearly giving a hand job to a man later identified as Dennis Baker, a friend of the woman's who was with her at the Tumble Inn that night. Driscoll's brother tracked him down, and Baker admitted to the driveway hand play—and added that he'd had sex with the woman that same night in Driscoll's hot tub (she had told a nurse that prior to the alleged rape she'd last had sex, with her boyfriend, some days earlier). More important to Driscoll's defense, Baker also said he saw bruises on her in the hot tub, hours before Driscoll and his accuser got together. The tapes also blew a hole in the prosecution's time line, as they show the accuser leaving Driscoll's home more than an hour earlier than she claimed in her police report. Driscoll and his brother could scarcely contain their excitement—Coran believed the revelations would be enough to get the charges dismissed. But the state prosecutor, Jody Vaughan, was unimpressed and refused to drop the case. Vaughan, who has since been dismissed from the state prosecutor's office, did not respond to requests for comment.

Driscoll's trial started in November, and it began badly. Baker was allowed to testify only that he and the accuser had contact in the hot tub and that he'd seen bruises on her. The judge refused to allow any of the tapes or references to the woman's sex acts that night, citing rape shield laws, which prohibit complainants from being questioned about past sexual behavior. "That was the moment when I lost all hope," Driscoll says. "How could any human take this much evidence and throw it aside?" He didn't take the stand in his own defense. "He'd given a wonderful statement to the police," Coran says of that decision. "It was like controlled testimony. We thought the evidence was overwhelming." To counter the state's medical expert (a general practitioner who specialized in pediatrics), they brought in two forensic pathologists who both found that the bruising inside the accuser's vagina could have been consistent with consensual sex. They also testified that the yellowing bruises on her body were at least 48 hours old, and possibly 72 hours old or older. According to Driscoll, when it was his accuser's turn on the stand she often looked annoyed that she had to be there. Sometimes she cried, and occasionally she gave Driscoll a half-smile.

"It was like a dream," Driscoll says of the trial. "It gets to a point where no one can understand anything that's going on or any of the documents. It's just two lawyers putting on a show, and I'm sitting there going, 'I know the truth.' Every day I would go home and wait to go back and find out if I was not going to lose everything or if I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison."

He would have to wait some more. He didn't get a verdict. After three days of deliberation, the case ended in a mistrial because of a hung jury.

In May 2010, the prosecutor came to Driscoll, who was released from house arrest a month after the first trial, with a deal. Plead guilty to a reduced charge, sexual abuse in the second degree (a Class C felony), she offered, and he would have to register as a sex offender but would face no prison time. His mother wanted him to accept the plea bargain—she didn't know where they'd get the money to defend him in another trial. "Just because you don't go to jail doesn't mean you skate on a deal like that," Coran says. "He would have been convicted on a non-expungable sex offense. He'd have a tough time living his life like that. Every time there's a sex crime, he's on the suspect list. He may not have gone to jail, but he would have remained in a sort of prison the rest of his life." Driscoll couldn't take the deal—"You just made the worst decision of your life," the judge told him in private chambers, according to Coran. Driscoll would accept nothing less than complete exoneration—he didn't want to live under a cloud. He wanted his good name back. But perhaps years on the bench had taught the judge what Driscoll didn't yet know: That in cases involving rape, people's memories and Google's caches don't clear easily. Any good name was already as good as gone.

The second trial began in September. to Driscoll, it felt like a slowly replaying nightmare. "I was numb to it," he says. "I didn't have a whole lot of faith." He wanted to move out of town after the trial was over, but he didn't pack. "Why spend the next week packing when it won't matter?" he says. "I'd never see my stuff again if it went bad." This time around, Coran staged a more vocal and assertive defense—Driscoll thought they'd been too passive during the first trial, so now they countered every claim the prosecution made and Driscoll testified in his own defense. One of the jurors, Glenda Hart, 40, a stay-at-home mom, says, "When he got on the stand, he just looked like a big stupid kid with a deer-in-the-headlights look."

Five weeks later, on October 6, Driscoll's ordeal was over. After just an hour of deliberation, the jury came back with its verdict: He was acquitted of all charges. According to Hart, the trial was a monumental waste of taxpayer money: "We could have come back with a not-guilty verdict five minutes after we walked into the jury room." Perceptions of the main witnesses aside, what clinched it for her was the video of Driscoll taking his shirt off in the interrogation room to show the police his chest. "She had fingernails," Hart says of the accuser. "If she had done all of that punching and scratching, why didn't he have any marks? There should have been something, and there was nothing."

Driscoll doesn't remember much about that final day in court. When his attorney told him the verdict was in, his stomach dropped. He gave his wallet and cell phone to his mom and hugged her goodbye, just in case. When he heard "not guilty" after the first charge, he turned to Coran. "He gave me a look like, 'It's going to be all right,'" Driscoll says.

But being cleared legally would never deliver the kind of closure he was looking for. His name was not on any law-enforcement sex-offenders lists, but the public's perception was another matter. Whatever the jury's verdict and however decisive the exoneration, to be accused of rape is to be guilty of something. "My attorney told me that when it ends, you're not going to get an apology," Driscoll says. "No one—not her, not the D.A.—is going to say, 'I'm sorry. We screwed up,' and it's really going to bother you. He was right. It was like, 'Okay, you're free. Bye.' And I have nothing left."

Driscoll now lives in Portland with his new girlfriend, Natalie Hammon. They met about a year ago, between the two trials, when Driscoll sent her a message on Facebook. (She was a friend of a friend.) Hammon didn't know anything about his background and found out, she says, "in a not very good way." A friend called her and said, "Did you know what's going on with him?" She Googled Driscoll and was stunned. When she confronted him, he didn't deny that he had been accused. He maintained his innocence. He also showed her every bit of evidence he had—the videos of his and his accuser's interrogations, the police reports, the medical findings. "Part of me was like, 'This is too much,'" she says. "But another part was like, 'I'll take a chance.'"

She did, and helped him make the decision to reject the plea deal. "If we want to have kids someday," she says, "he'd have had to register as a sex offender and we wouldn't have been able to live near a school or have other kids come over." When he was found not guilty, she mass-texted her friends: "Not guilty on all seven counts."

Since moving out of his home in Redmond in October, Driscoll has spent most of his time in the apartment he shares with Hammon. The first time I met him, it was the day after New Year's, but he hadn't celebrated. "I don't go anywhere," he says. "I'm either at home or at school." He wants to eventually apply to medical school, something he has always wanted to do, but worries that he won't be accepted anywhere. His friend Angela Dundas says that before the arrest, they'd go out and he'd have a group of new friends by the end of the night. No longer. "He's constantly worried about someone finding out," she says. Sometimes when they're together, friends take her aside to ask if Driscoll is the guy who was accused of rape. The less-shy ones will ask if she thinks he did it. "My response is, 'Yeah, I choose to hang around with people who beat and rape women,'" she says with disgust.

The power of the stigma strikes me as Driscoll and I drive around Redmond, checking out everything from his old house, which is now in foreclosure, to the Tumble Inn. I know the events of the night in question better than the jury members, and still I can't help but feel uncomfortable around him, despite believing he's the exception to the rule: the accused rapist who's innocent (not just "not guilty"), a victim even. All told, he lost $120,000 defending himself, forcing his mom into bankruptcy and himself $50,000 into debt. He pulls over beside the bar, exhales, and says, "I haven't been inside since that night." Driscoll stops outside the door and peeks in the window to make sure he doesn't know anyone inside. I ask if he wants to go in for a beer, but he blanches and tells me he doesn't drink anymore. He's terrified of hearing a police officer say to him again, "Were you so intoxicated that possibly you don't remember?" He's lost around 35 pounds and rarely sleeps more than four hours a night. He thinks often about the woman who accused him of rape—there is anger when he hears about how carefree she seems driving a Mercedes around town. But mostly there is just regret that he ever met her. He's grateful to his mom for everything she did during the trial, but lately he's been irritated by her—she's often trying to track him down. "If I call him and he's not there, I panic," she says. "I'm like the mother of a teenager. I told him I think we both have this shell-shock thing. I just can't get over it."

After a few moments, Driscoll enters the Tumble Inn, and as I follow, the whole bar comes into view. There are sausage dogs and chili for sale. Pabst beer mirrors line the wall, and there are a couple of video-poker machines in the back. Driscoll stops awkwardly in the space between the bar and the pool tables and explains that this is where he and his friends were playing a game, then he gestures to the stools where his accuser and her group sat finishing their last round as the bar started to close up—the lights went on, the music shut off—recalling their introduction.

"It's this darkness inside of me that I can't get rid of," he says of the past two and a half years. "This sounds crazy, but sometimes I think that maybe back in January, I was in an accident and I died—and this is hell."

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