NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey appeals court has overturned the conviction of a former Rutgers University professor who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a disabled man she said consented to the relationship by communicating on a keyboard.
The court also ruled Friday that Anna Stubblefield should get a new trial with a new judge. The three-judge panel found the trial judge erred by barring testimony from an expert witness for the defense.
Stubblefield, who once chaired Rutgers-Newark's philosophy department, testified at trial that she and the man fell in love after she was brought on by his family to help him communicate. But prosecutors said Stubblefield used her position to take advantage of the then-29-year-old man, who has cerebral palsy and can't speak.
Stubblefield was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
On appeal, her lawyer argued that an expert barred by the trial judge from testifying would've convinced jurors the man could consent to sex. The expert had done a three-day evaluation of the man that included "facilitated communication," a technique in which a person trained in the method assists a disabled person usually with typing.
The judge determined facilitated communication is an "unrecognized field of science."
The appellate panel found that because jurors couldn't hear the expert's full assessment of the man, they were left with the impression that no one — apart from Stubblefield herself — believed he had the mental abilities to consent to sex.
"The jury and not the court should have ultimately determined whether (the expert's) evaluation was persuasive, and whether the state proved defendant knew or should have known that D.J. could not consent," the appellate court wrote, referring to the man by initials used in the case.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who are the alleged victims of sex crimes.
Stubblefield was married with children when her relationship with the man developed. She met him in 2009 through his brother, who had been taking a college course from her. Over the next two years, she worked with D.J. using facilitated communication. She argued that he could communicate by typing.
Last year, the man's family won a $4 million judgment in a lawsuit they brought over Stubblefield's treatment of him.