A Marine Corps major who logged onto an Internet dating site and wound up in a high-speed train wreck of a marriage averted a life prison sentence late Thursday when an Orleans Parish jury acquitted him of raping his bride, then holding her captive. Maj. Michael Hall wept in his green service uniform full of military ribbons after the verdict was read about 10:15 p.m.
The jury, an even split of men and women, took four hours to find the 37-year-old not guilty of aggravated rape and second-degree kidnapping.
The verdict came after three days of often bizarre, sordid testimony, including a wrenching account of the woman’s past, which included sexual abuse by her father over several years and at least three other abusive relationships.
The Times-Picayune does not name victims in alleged rapes.
Hall, who served as a sexual assault response coordinator at the Marine Corps Support Facility in New Orleans, met the woman online, either on Match.com or BlackPeopleMeet.com, and they began dating in January 2011.
By May she had moved from Florida to New Orleans and in June they held a marriage ceremony, though they never filed the papers.
The woman testified that on their honeymoon in Colorado Springs, Hall surprised her by revealing a peculiar sexual fetish.
She balked and the relationship turned stormy from there, prosecutors argued. Amid the tumult, the woman threatened to tell the military and Hall’s church that he was gay. At one point, in late July, Hall stabbed himself several times in the chest, bleeding profusely and leaving a three-inch cut.
Hall said, in a videotaped statement shown during the trial, he wanted his wife to know how much her words hurt him. Prosecutors claimed he was threatening to accuse her of abuse. She also allegedly told him she would call a friend from out of state to beat him up.
Hall called police, got a stay-away order and had his wife locked up in jail for a week in early August. On Aug. 11, he went to a magistrate commissioner and got her released.
In the meantime, prosecutors claimed, he had switched the locks on two rooms in his house so they would lock from the outside. Despite the protective order, Hall picked her up on the street after she left jail. The woman alleged that Hall held a revolver on his lap and ordered her in. They went for dinner in Metairie, then he took her back home, where she testified that Hall demanded she remove her clothes.
When she asked Hall if he was going to rape her, he allegedly repeated, “Say you consent!”
Afterward, “he rolled over and put his arms around me. He told me he loved me. He told me I better not tell anybody what he did,” she said. “He said he would kill me and get away with it, because I was not supposed to be in his house because of the protective order. I was just in shock and I was scared.”
She said she tried to slink away but that Hall awoke and shoved her, naked, up the stairs and into one of the locked rooms for several hours. The woman reported the alleged rape two weeks later. There was no rape exam done and prosecutors didn’t test the bedsheets for DNA, noting that Hall didn’t dispute the sex, only that it was rape.
Hall did not testify, but prosecutors played an 80-minute interview in which he proclaimed his innocence while offering elaborate details on his whereabouts and what he ate weeks before on the night of the rape.
Prosecutors John Alford and Kathleen Barrios argued that Hall hatched the rape plan, concocted a well-spun story and hid away the Taurus revolver he owned, nicknamed “The Judge.” Prosecutors theorized that Hall, a pilot, was worried over the gun and tossed it out of the cockpit somewhere into water.
“He thought, ‘I’m a Marine. I’m a pilot. I know people. No one will ever believe her,'” said Alford, who called Hall “a coward, hiding behind a Marine uniform, hoping, praying that what he told her will come true.”
But the jury didn’t buy it, nixing the rape charge by a unanimous verdict and rejecting the kidnapping charge 11-1.
Defense attorneys Tanzanika Ruffin and Aubrey Harris put on a former supervisor of Hall’s who testified about his competence as a point man for fielding sexual assault complaints in the Marine Corps. The attorneys argued that it was the woman, not Hall, doing the controlling, and that she lied to him about her past before they wed. They cited phone records showing that the woman called Hall repeatedly for days after the rape, although she said her phone dialed accidentally from her purse.
“This is one nasty, messy case. You got craziness all over. You got stuff galore, things that don’t make sense,” Ruffin told the jury Thursday. “She was hurt by her daddy. That’s not why we’re here … He’s innocent. So when he sits there in his military uniform, proud of being a Marine, he can do that because he knows he’s innocent.”
John Simerman can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3330.