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As Olsen Trial Enters Second Week, Retired Judge Discusses How Proceedings Run

Sarah Delia

The rape trial of Kevin Olsen enters its second week today, and we should learn if Olsen himself will testify in this high-profile case. Olsen is a former UNC Charlotte quarterback charged with three counts of second degree rape and one count of sexual offense of his then-girlfriend in February of 2017. Closing arguments are expected this week.

WFAE’s Sarah Delia spoke to retired Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Richard Boner about running high-profile trials, and what’s different when they involve sexual assault charges. Boner served 27 years on the bench before retiring as the senior resident Superior Court judge in 2014. He says in his experience, the best closing arguments are no more than 20 minutes if lawyers want to keep the jury’s attention.

"You need to figure out what's important. You need to tell the jury the salient points that you want to make, and then sit down," Boner says.

And he says lawyers need to think of how their questions of witness are perceived by jurors.

Boner: You have to be careful when you're questioning a witness not to make the jury angry at you. For example in a sexual assault case. and you've got a female victim and you're the defense lawyer, you've got a job to do. You want to court you want to get your points across. You want to attack their credibility. You want to poke holes in the story. But at the same time, there's a line that you don't want to cross over because if you've got women on that jury and it looks like you're attacking this person - not their story but the person - it can backfire against you. You've got to walk a fine line there.

Delia: There are certain things with a sexual assault case that's being tried that you have to look out for that you may not have to in other cases?

Boner: The only thing that I can think of is in North Carolina we have what's called the rape shield law that prohibits counsel from asking the victim about her prior sexual history. There are some exceptions where the witness can be questioned but under that law we have, if the lawyer wants to ask question we have to have a hearing out of the presence of the jury, so that we can hear the question, determine if it's relevant, determine if it falls on the one of the exceptions to the shield statute and then make a ruling yes you can ask the jury or no you can't. I never had a lawyer get close to violating that law. I know of one judge who did have that problem. The lawyer asked question knew and was disciplined for it. He was cited for contempt. That's the only difference that I can see, and that's because there is a statute that deal struck strictly with prior sexual history.

Delia: What about in a case like sexual assault when there some really emotional witness testimony? For instance, Mr. Olsen's accuser - a friend of hers was on the stand and was recounting seeing her after she came home and had bruises and was telling her what happened. And the young woman actually got up and left the courtroom because it was just too much and she broke out in tears, and she broke down a couple of times while she testified as well. I mean, as a judge how do you deal with emotion.

Boner: We just call a recess and let the witness compose themselves. And that happens in other, I've had it happen in other cases. I mean not non-sexual cases where a witness gets very emotional. They have difficulty talking. And we'll just call a brief recess, let them get themselves composed and then when they've got everything together start back up again.

Delia: If you were in Judge (Karen) Eady-Williams shoes right now, given what's going on with Supreme Court nominee Kavanagh, are there any things that you would be instructing jurors to not think about?

Boner: One thing I always told jurors particularly in the last several years I was on the bench was, 'Folks, you will see TV programs. CSI Boston...' I use to joke, if I was in Gaston County I'd say 'CSI L.A., CSI New York, CSI Belmont.' But what goes on on television may or may not be realistic and they may bear very little resemblance to what's happening in a North Carolina courtroom, so don't let what you see on TV even enter into your decision in this case.

And if I was Judge Eady-Williams, I'd probably say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, don't let things that you see on the evening news, even if they're unrelated to this case, don't let them in or into your decision in this case because your decision in this case has to be based only on the evidence a presented during this trial and the law and not on something extraneous.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.