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State v. Lake

Supreme Court of Montana

July 30, 2019

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
NATHANIEL J. LAKE, Defendant and Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted: February 13, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DC 15-605 Honorable Karen S. Townsend, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Koan Mercer (argued), Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Mardell Ployhar (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Kirsten Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, Suzy Boylan, Brian Lowney, Deputy County Attorneys, Missoula, Montana


          James Jeremiah Shea Justice

         ¶1 Appellant Nathaniel J. Lake appeals the Judgment of the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, finding Lake guilty of attempted sexual intercourse without consent, a felony, in violation of § 45-5-503, MCA. We address the following issue on appeal:

Whether the District Court erred by applying Montana's Rape Shield Law to exclude evidence of the presence of unidentified sperm cells that remained on B.J.'s underwear after laundering when Lake sought to introduce such evidence to rebut the State's explanation that laundering accounted for the absence of Lake's DNA on the underwear.

         ¶2 We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.


         ¶3 In 2012, B.J. met Lake while she was volunteering at the Union Gospel Mission (Mission) in Missoula. Lake was a homeless individual who lived near the river in McCormick Park in Missoula. Prior to the instant charges, Lake had been homeless in Missoula for over a decade.

         ¶4 As a volunteer, B.J. took an interest in helping Lake obtain social services to acquire a home. From 2012 to 2014, B.J. took Lake to appointments to obtain housing and mental health services, worked with Lake to improve his hygiene, washed and brought him additional clothes and bedding, and occasionally paid for hotel rooms for Lake to stay in during winter weather. B.J. and her family also attended Lake's mother's funeral in early 2014.

         ¶5 B.J. testified that in the spring of 2014, Lake began exhibiting sexual behavior toward her for the first time. During the first instance, B.J. alleged that Lake pinned her up against some bushes near his camp, proceeded to grind on her, exposed his penis, and touched her breasts. B.J. testified that she later confronted Lake about the incident, and Lake repeatedly apologized. Despite the incident, B.J. testified that she continued to help Lake because she felt like she had invested too much time to give up on him, especially considering the recent death of his mother and his general lack of a support system.

         ¶6 By June 2014, Lake obtained an apartment through B.J.'s assistance. B.J. helped Lake furnish it with her family, friends, and the help of the Mission. B.J. visited Lake's apartment once or twice a week to bring him food and to check up on him. B.J. testified that in November 2014, Lake initiated a second incident where he backed B.J. up against a door, grinded up against her, and exposed himself. Despite this second incident, B.J. testified she did not stop helping Lake because she believed Lake did not get out of his apartment regularly, and he lacked a support system.

         ¶7 B.J. testified she entered counseling for depression based on the two prior incidents with Lake. Around February 2015, B.J. told her husband about the incidents. B.J. testified that her husband immediately asked that she cease all contact with Lake. Despite her husband's request, B.J. continued helping Lake and checking up on him at his apartment.

         ¶8 B.J. testified that in July 2015, she visited Lake at his apartment and noticed that he had stopped bathing and washing his clothes, and that his apartment was dirty and smelled. During the visit, B.J. testified that Lake allegedly pulled on her arm and tried to put her into a closet. B.J. resisted and got away from Lake. In August 2015, after Lake allegedly left a series of threatening phone messages at her office, B.J. broke off her association with Lake. B.J. and her husband subsequently obtained a restraining order against Lake. B.J. additionally testified that she stopped volunteering at the Mission to avoid seeing Lake.

         ¶9 In early October 2015, B.J. encountered Lake while she was walking along a river bank near McCormick Park during her lunch break. B.J. and Lake talked briefly before parting. The next day, B.J. returned to McCormick Park. After being approached by Lake, B.J. conversed with him again. B.J. did not report either encounter as a violation of the restraining order.

         ¶10 On October 12, 2015, B.J. went back to McCormick Park for a third time. B.J. testified that she went to the park to tell Lake that she would not be returning, and he would not see her again. Upon arriving, B.J. testified that she went down to Lake's camp. She testified that she then decided to sit down on Lake's blanket because of a foot injury. B.J. testified that Lake, after commenting on her appearance, attempted to pull her shirt off. B.J. alleged that Lake then backed her up against a log, pulled her pants down just below her hips, placed his penis inside her underwear, and thrusted until he ejaculated on her underwear. B.J. testified that after Lake ejaculated, she pulled up her pants and quickly left. B.J. testified that she went home, showered, and washed her clothes. B.J. testified she returned to McCormick Park for a fourth time later that day and yelled at Lake.

         ¶11 On October 13, 2015, B.J. went to the Missoula Crime Victim Advocacy Office and filed a police report. She then went to the First Step Resource Center in Missoula to obtain antibiotics but chose not to have a sexual assault examination done at that time. A few days later, B.J. returned to First Step and underwent a genital examination. B.J.'s examiner testified that B.J. had tenderness in one genital area, and increased redness and tenderness in another, which the examiner determined was a "possible healing abrasion."

         ¶12 On October 14, 2015, Missoula Police Department Detective Robert Franke interviewed Lake. Franke testified that Lake acknowledged seeing B.J. during the last few days when she came down to the river but denied he had sexually assaulted her. Franke testified Lake suggested B.J. had made up the allegations because of past incidents of him rejecting her advances.

         ¶13 Missoula police collected B.J.'s underwear and submitted it for testing at the Montana State Crime Lab (Crime Lab). The Crime Lab discovered sperm cell evidence and skin cells on the underwear and determined the sperm cell evidence was a mixture of a major profile from an unknown male and a minor profile from which no conclusions could be made. The Crime Lab concluded the major profile did not match Lake's DNA. The Crime Lab additionally determined the skin cells were a mixture of a major profile that matched B.J.'s DNA and a minor profile that could not be sourced. B.J.'s ...

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