Not guilty verdict delivered in statutory rape case

After two weeks of testimony, a jury delivered a verdict of not guilty on all counts in the case of Cody Jenkins, who in 2014 was accused of statutory rape following a Sylva Halloween party that involved underage drinking.

“We felt like it was pretty clear evidence he wasn’t guilty of the charge and the investigation wasn’t done very well, and what was there evidence-wise showed he didn’t commit the crime,” said Frank Lay, the attorney defending Jenkins.

The Halloween party, which was hosted by the Dillard family at Dillard Excavating on Oct. 25, 2014, had resulted in multiple arrests and allegedly featured a smorgasbord of alcohol and a mixture of adults and teenagers as guests.

Jenkins, then 24, was charged with three felony counts for engaging in sexual acts with a 14-year-old girl. However, DNA analysis of a condom found at Jenkins’ home and bearing the DNA of the underage girl failed to prove that Jenkins had ever touched it. Meanwhile, a pair of underwear that the victim had worn at the time of the alleged crime was collected but never analyzed. Jenkins’ home was located a short walk away from where the party was held, and he testified that he typically left it unlocked.

Court testimony showed that the underage girl had had some kind of sexual encounter over the course of the night but also revealed that she had been extremely impaired at the time it occurred. The girl had consumed six to nine Jell-o shots, some amount of beer, two doses of the Zoloft prescribed her for depression and at least two smokes of marijuana.

According to Lay, the jury deliberated for about four hours before finding Jenkins not guilty on all three counts. Had he been found guilty, he could have been sentenced to as many as 90 years in prison.

The legal process has been a grueling one for everyone involved, Lay said — and especially for Jenkins. Following his arrest, he lost his job and then his home, forcing him to move in with his parents. Given the nature of the crime he was accused of, finding an impartial jury was a painstaking process.

“He’s very thankful now to be picking the pieces of his life back up, but it was a huge impact on his life,” Lay said.

Pick up the Sept. 20 issue of The Smoky Mountain News for more on this story.

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